You may remember the old joke about the family who, hopelessly lost in the middle of nowhere, wind down their car window to ask for directions, only to be told “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you”.
In the third year of Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty, transport in London isn’t quite that bad, but it’s heading that way. It is already certain that the current mayor will leave London’s transport in a worse state than he found it.
Transport of London’s deficit has ballooned to almost £1bn, while we’ve seen a six per cent cut in bus mileage and the cancellation of vital capacity-boosting new Tube trains for the Northern and Jubilee Lines.
Meanwhile, the Elizabeth Line – on time and on budget under Boris Johnson’s tenure – recently needed a £590m bailout, and last Friday, just months before it was due to open, we discovered that its central section will be delayed by a full nine months.
As London’s population continues to grow apace (it is predicted to reach 10m within a decade), the ability to both build more and make better use of our existing transport infrastructure will be vital. This means getting operating costs, which have increased by 6.8 per cent over the last year, under control.
It is clear that a fresh approach is necessary – with an emphasis on encouraging innovation, unleashing the power of the private sector, and giving Londoners more choice on how they travel, whether that be by bike, train, Tube, bus, car, black cab, or private hire vehicle.
Instead of following the current mayor’s example of continuously asking central government for more money, we need to make the case for more powers, so the mayor can spend the money he or she does have more effectively.
To this end, I support the GLA Conservatives’ policy of banning strike action on London’s public transport – which the militant unions consistently use to ratchet up pay. We should replace it with binding pendulum arbitration, so that genuine grievances can be addressed without holding London to ransom several times a year.
At present, it is not always clear what the current mayor’s plans are – “plans” would suggest that real thought had gone into the mistakes he keeps making and the promises he keeps breaking. But we can see the policies: Khan is trying to force motorists off the road, while squeezing as much money as possible out of those who need to drive.
The mayor’s intention to extend the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) all the way out to the North and South Circulars in 2021 is a case in point.
Consider a family who live just outside the zone, who cannot afford to replace their old car, which they need to drive their kids to a school just inside the zone. They would pay £12.50 a day under Khan’s scheme. A pensioner who has to drive himself to, for example, Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone would pay the same.
It gets worse. The cost of the infrastructure needed to cover this expanded area has been estimated at £780m.
That’s money that should be spent on genuinely improving London’s air quality. For example, £600m would pay for the replacement of 2,000 diesel buses with hybrid vehicles, which emit nearly 80 per cent less nitrogen dioxide.
We need to make it easier for Londoners to leave their car at home, but without punishing those who do drive for making an entirely rational and reasonable choice.
If I became mayor in 2020, I would scrap Khan’s unfair and ill-considered ULEZ expansion, and focus on more effective ways to improve both air quality and transport options in the capital, for all Londoners.
Londoners cannot afford another four years of a mayor guided by cheap headlines and misplaced ideology. Right now, we might be hopelessly lost on our journey towards better transport, but under a different mayor, London can find its direction again.