• 2001: London Transport


    London Transport

    Reply to a consultation document issued by Ken Livingstone.


    Ken Livingstone,

    Mayor of London,

    (Transport Strategy Consultation),

    Greater London Authority,

    Romney House,

    Marsham Street,

    London SW1P 3PY

    Dear Mayor Livingstone,

    Herewith comments on your draft Transport Strategy:

    3.18     The message ‘use your car sensibly’ seems to me to contain the problem at the heart of the whole strategy. There are many references to reduction in car use, but none to reduction in car ownership. Yet without the latter all the well-meaning measures in the documents are only tinkering with the edges of the problem. A car is a significant investment, especially for working-class owners, and if a car has been purchased, people will necessarily wish to make full use of it. Of course there are problems with committing the GLA to a reduction in car ownership; in particular many thousands of Londoners still earn their living from the manufacture of cars. Only in the context of a democratically planned economic reorganisation in which such workers could be redeployed to the manufacture of public transport vehicles could such a strategy become feasible. But without it any attempt to reduce car usage is doomed to failure.

    2.16     Despite noting that 36% of London households do not own a car, the report has very little to offer them. As is pointed out a little later (2.43), pedestrians and cyclists constitute more than half the victims of accidents. Vehicle manufacturers are obsessed with the safety of drivers and passengers (airbags) to the almost total disregard of pedestrian safety. Moreover, if the question is examined more closely, a clear class aspect emerges. The victims of road accidents are disproportionately children in working-class areas knocked down by middle-class motorists using their area as a short-cut. This is briefly noted in 2.89, but the strategy wholly fails to address the roots of the problem.

    2.63     The document correctly notes that the shortage of bus staff can be ascribed to low wages. It falls far short of a full commitment by the GLA to use all available powers and influence to achieve a significant rise in wages.

    3.12     The question of staff participation is posed far too weakly. The term ‘participation’ has traditionally been grossly ambiguous, and often means cursory consultation without any real power or influence being conceded to workers. In particular the place of trade unions is scarcely touched on (cf. the final clause of Policy 3.1, where trade unions are added almost as an afterthought after businesses and organisations. The document correctly observes that the ‘enthusiasm’ of staff is important; but that enthusiasm cannot be provided unless the role of trade unions in the process is radically enhanced.

    3.45     While it may be true that on a global scale transport is the source of most pollution in London, this is not the case in all districts. In an area such as Edmonton, for example, the pollution generated by the local incinerator is an even more serious problem. A global assessment of pollution needs to take into account the part played by incineration – including the heavy lorry traffic generated thereby.

    4A.8    The document here and elsewhere seems to have fallen prey to the myth of ‘world-class management and private sector expertise’. Management skills are in general much overrated; as various television programmes have demonstrated, most managers are incapable of doing the jobs that they receive high salaries to instruct other people to do. The belief in the indispensability of highly-paid management skills is largely hype created by management themselves. In any case, skills acquired in the private sector may not be appropriate for transport management. The private sector, by its nature, must prioritise profit above such other considerations as safety or equable labour relations. Managers brought in from the private sector will therefore be unlikely to share or be sympathetic to the values that should predominate in the provision of public transport. It would be far better to develop a structure in which the creativity, energy and knowledge of rank-and-file workers could be mobilised and utilised.

    4A.18  The proposed congestion charging scheme will be both socially unjust and ineffective. The highly-paid – or those whose companies pay their charges for them – will find the charges derisory. Working-class motorists, including those who have no other viable way of travelling, will be heavily penalised.

    4C.34  We are told that the Mayor ‘firmly believes’ that the private sector should be involved in the Underground. As is usual with matters of faith, no grounds are given for this belief. To a dispassionate observer, it would appear that the only possible motive for private sector involvement could be the hope of achieving a profit; and that if profit is being extracted from the system, then workers and users will be worse off than if no profit is extracted.

    4G.35  The document  invokes ‘fairness in applying the law’. The average citizen perceives no such fairness. Prominent individuals such as Princess Anne, Ann Widdecombe and Geri Halliwell drive in a grossly dangerous and irresponsible fashion, and receive fines which are totally derisory to such highly-paid people. Chris Evans (a financial backer of the Mayor) is allowed to broadcast incitement to violence against traffic wardens with impunity. Small wonder that the average road user feels that the system is corrupt and that there is no reason why they too should not cheat if they can get away with it. The imprisonment of one or more prominent footballers or television presenters for dangerous driving might do something to restore popular faith in the system. We are very unlikely to see it.

    4G.41  The document is a little presumptuous in taking pride in the reduction in casualties in London. Traffic now moves so slowly in London that it is scarcely surprising that fewer people are killed. Indeed, if the measures proposed in the document have any limited success in speeding up traffic, they will undoubtedly lead to more fatalities.

    4J.11    As an elderly pedestrian I am aware of the problems caused by the increasing practice of cycling on the pavement – although I recognise the skill, if not the courtesy, of most who do so. But the document fails to address the cause of this relatively minor problem (I should far rather be hit by a bicycle than by a car). Cyclists are driven onto the pavement by the increasingly dangerous conditions on the roads. Until the roads are made safe for cyclists, the attempt to drive cyclists back onto roads where they may well be killed will be both irresponsible and ineffective.

    4P.26   The idea that a more visible police presence can add to people’s sense of security is laughable.  Perhaps the author should speak to the families of Harry Stanley and Roger Sylvester, both murdered by police while going about their lawful business.

    Yours sincerely,

    Ian H Birchall