Monday, 24 March 2008

Ken vs Boris on the Issues (1): Transport

Leaving aside the negative campaigning, what would London be in for were Boris Johnson to become the elected Mayor for the next 4 years? And what does Ken Livingstone have to offer in what would be his third term?

I'm going to take a look at the positions of the two main competitors for the Mayoralty with regard to five issues of concern to Londoners, starting with transport.

Transport is the one policy issue that has actually played a prominent part in the debate. If asked to name one of Boris Johnson's policies, it's a good bet that most people would respond "bringing back the Routemaster" or conversely "abolishing the bendy bus". This is a very popular policy. Bendy buses are unsuitable for London's outdated roads and can indeed be a real danger to cyclists, and it should be borne in mind that the Routemasters Boris is talking about are modernised, accessible models not the 1950s originals. Estimates of the cost of conductors for the new Routemasters must be weighed against that of the current high level of fare evasion on bendy buses, something that hasn't been done in previous discussions of the cost of this policy, e.g. here.

Buses are not the only form of transport of importance in London, however. The biggest transport issue for London motorists is the Congestion Charge. The Charge was initially somewhat successful in its stated aim of reducing traffic in the zone. It has also had the effect of cutting pollution. Some criticisms of the Charge are justified - for instance, it has probably have had a detrimental effect on some small businesses. However, Ken Livingstone looks to be planning on leaving behind the initial, sensible motivation behind Congestion Charging, and instead turning it into an emissions tax. Boris Johnson was initially an opponent of the Charge, but now talks about reforming the payment system (a policy now shared with Ken) and rejecting Ken's emissions-based gradations.

The Tube sees the real ideological differences between the two candidates come into play. Ken fiercely opposes the PPP (Public-Private Partnerships) which have led to firms such as Metronet being contracted to maintain Tube infrastructure. However, as Mayor he was unable to stop the PPP going ahead, so as some commenters have pointed out this is something of a non-issue in the Mayoral race. What may not be is Boris Johnson's pledge to come to a no-strike deal with the RMT, a potential vote-winner among commuters but unlikely to come to fruition.

Boris Johnson is well-known for being a keen cyclist, however it is Ken who unveiled a detailed plan to spend £500 million over a decade to boost cycling in London last month, whereas Boris's plans, described in a press release (PDF) as 'more ambitious' are relatively vague and uncosted, other than a suggested £2 million for safe cycle parking. Boris's emphasis on reducing cycle theft may however be more welcome to many Londoners who have been put off cycling by the problem than announcements of new routes and cycle-priority streets.

Several other transport policies are shared by both Ken and Boris, including support for Crossrail and an Oxford Street tram, extension of the Freedom Pass for pensioners to 24hrs, and free travel for injured veterans.

Overall: The emphasis of the Boris Johnson campaign on buses highlights one of Ken's worst decisions - the introduction to London's roads of the bendy bus, but perhaps betrays a paucity of positive, innovative policy elsewhere. At the same time, Ken's more recent statements regarding the Congestion Charge represent a Green lobby-pandering policy blunder that has been largely overlooked. Both have clearly borrowed from each other in many other respects, and London's transport will be better for it whichever of the two wins.
Transport Verdict: Narrow win for Boris


DaveHill said...

Very interesting. We need more bloggers like you.

Neil Harding said...

I don't think that was an impartial analysis. Where does Boris say he wants to extend the freedom pass to 24 hours? His party - the Tories have fought tooth and nail against this on the assembly and also against free travel for under 18s and those on benefit - this has to be taken into account.

The costs of Boris's routemaster scheme have been independently priced at £110m compared to Boris's 'guestimate' of £8m - this is a collosal error and doesn't bold well for his competence in running transport (even if Boris elimated all evasion on bendy buses it would only save £6m - by your figures). Ken has proved he can do a good job (by introducing a radical congestion charge that no other politician in the world could do and by making London the most bus friendly city in the world), whereas the evidence of Boris's past sackings, opposition to Ken's congestion charge and lack of knowledge per se, suggests Boris will be incompetent.

The bendy buses are no more dangerous per passenger journey than any other bus. This is despite running on the busiest routes and carrying a lot more passengers (no London cyclist has ever been killed by a bendy bus). They are also a lot more accessible for parents with prams, the elderly, disabled users and 56% of Londoners prefer them to 19% who don't (pdf).

You dismiss the fact that Ken is going to spend £500m on cycling (paid for by the emissions tax you say is useless - but 61% of Londoners back it) compared to Boris's £2m, but think 400 bendy buses and Boris's vague promises on cycle theft are of the utmost importance. To suggest Transport is a 'slight win for Boris' is laughable.