As we are coming up to the election of a new London Mayor on May 5th, and of course for representatives to sit on the Greater London Assembly as well, it looks a timely moment to look at the policies of the main parties. I will only comment on their transport policies.
There is one thing that clearly differentiates the two main candidates for Mayor. It is that one is the son of a billionaire financier and businessman, while the other is the son of a London bus driver. You can easily guess which is which of course, but their policies on transport are actually not that much different. Both candidates will continue to support that expensive hand out to the electorate called the “Freedom Pass” where both the rich and poor get encouraged to consume public transport by unjustifiable subsidies which impose a major financial burden on local borough councils (and which the public end up paying for but not transparently). Both support the proposed new East London river crossings, investment in Crossrail 2 and tougher rules on HGVs entering London.
They are also both keen to reduce air pollution in London, and to encourage cycling. So Conservative Zac Goldsmith says “Dirty cars, vans and buses contaminate the air we breathe” and he intends to “make London the greenest city on earth”. As he also says in his manifesto, he has been a lifelong environmentalist and is opposed to expanding Heathrow airport.
Labour’s candidate, Sadiq Khan, is keen to expand London’s public transport network while making it more affordable. One difference between the candidates is that Mr Khan would freeze fares for 4 years and cut Transport for London’s budget. Indeed he is threatening to take personal control of TfL by chairing that organisation. As he says, TfL is a vast organisation but he thinks it is inefficient and flabby. He suggests there are major efficiency savings to be made but he would spend more of TfL’s budget on cycling – expansion of the Superhighway network and Quietways for example. He would also spend more on support of 20mph zones. Mr Goldsmith says that freezing fares is not practical to meet the investment plans for TfL and maintain operations, i.e. that a budget could not be devised to do this.
Mr Khan also opposes a third runway at Heathrow but prefers expansion of Gatwick to meet demand for air travel growth. He supports keeping the Congestion Charge (aka “Tax”) as its current level but he would bring forward the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and extend it to major arterial routes “or a wider section of central London” as he rates cleaning up London’s air to be a priority. He would also call upon the Government to “introduce a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme”, although that would surely not be likely to prompt a positive response.
Incidentally both candidates seem keen to pedestrianise Oxford Street. That has always been a popular concept but ignores the practicality of routing all the buses elsewhere apart from the objections from the retailers that this would deter a lot of their customers.
The Green Party (candidate Sian Berry), who actually did quite well in the last London elections, would also like more investment in walking, cycling and public transport. They would introduce a “smarter” congestion charge system with much more extensive coverage and also expand the ULEZ. They also support a workplace parking levy.
UKIP (candidate Peter Whittle) do not seem to have published a specific London manifesto at the time of writing, but historically they have vowed to scrap HS2, have opposed speed cameras being used simply to raise revenue, and opposed road tolls and congestion charging.
There are also a large number of other minor party candidates, if you don’t find any of the above to your liking. And don’t forget this is a transferable voting system (a supplementary vote where your second choice is used if there is no outright winner on first choices). So there is no harm in declaring your preference for a minority candidate. Just make sure you VOTE FOR SOMEONE.
Zac Goldsmith’s views on cycling
Now it just so happens that I was able to ask a couple of questions of Zac Goldsmith at a recent husting meeting. I asked him what he was going to do to sort out the traffic congestion that Boris had created with the Cycle Superhighways, and whether he was a keen cyclist himself. In answer to the first question he said he would look at the issue when the works had been completed, and might consider mitigation measures if necessary. He avoided answering the second question altogether. An altogether weak response. I am afraid Mr Goldsmith comes across as a glib and slick politician but one who is not likely to win the election, particularly if he goes on in this manner. Needless to say he is trailing in the opinion polls at present.
But whichever candidate wins, it looks like we will get a continuation of the policies pursued in the last few years which have been so damaging to the road network of London.