Boris Johnson's record on transport has not been good. Photo: Getty
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For the sixth time since Boris became Mayor, Londoners will be hit with transport fare hikes

The Mayor's planned above-inflation jump in fares will negatively impact London's commuters, and is just one aspect of the wider poor transport legacy of his mayoralty.

For the sixth time since Boris Johnson became Mayor, Londoners will be left with a bitter taste in their mouth when, from January, bus, Tube and rail fares jump by an inflation busting 3.5 per cent. Yet for millions of Londoners their journey into work has become a daily grind of overcrowding, standing and stress.

The fare rises will mean that since Johnson was elected in 2008 on average fares have been pushed up by 42 per cent - that’s 17.5 per cent higher than inflation. Bus travel, which still makes up the majority of journeys on London’s public transport, has fared particularly badly, with a single ticket which would previously have set you back 90p in 2008 up 67 per cent to £1.50 from January.

Tube users have also seen significant increases, with a zone 1-6 annual travelcard going up by around 33% during the Mayor’s time in office. This translates to an extraordinary £584 a year extra which commuters will have to find compared with 2008.

London’s transport infrastructure of course needs modernisation and expansion to keep pace with population growth. But perversely it is the bus passengers facing the highest fare increases who have also suffered the worst neglect under Boris Johnson. During the years 2000- 2012, mostly under the stewardship of the previous Mayor, the number of bus ‘kilometres’ run by TfL increased  by 38 per cent to 490m in order to serve a rapidly growing population and increasing demand for bus services.

By contrast under Boris Johnson’s plans for the period 2012-2020 TfL will only increase services by 4 per cent, even though London’s population is expected to grow by over 1.2m. This means a growth in demand for buses of around 1.3 per cent per year. As the cross-party London Assembly Transport Committee Report Bus services in London – October 2013 says “demand for bus travel in London has been growing at a faster rate than supply and the gap is set to widen.”

Despite promising in his manifesto to “keep fares low”, Boris Johnson has been a prolific fare riser, mainly to hide significant withdrawal of Government investment in our transport system. The Mayor needs to recognise that investment in the capital’s transport system yields benefits to the economic, environmental and social functioning of London.  

Yet Boris Johnson’s record on transport has not been good. Instead of delivering on his manifesto commitment to “cut waste” at TfL, Johnson has relied on annual above inflation fare rises to fund a series of vanity projects. The Thames cable car cost TfL £61m and has seen disappointing passenger numbers since its launch. The launch of the “new bus for London”  has been an effective public relations stunt for the Mayor, but these few services now cost about £30m more each year.

One of the Mayor’s most ill-justified excesses has been his active promotion of the Thames Estuary Airport proposal, which he has spent over £5m on despite experts saying it would present huge environmental, financial and safety risks. This project is outside both his functional legal powers to build and his area of geographical responsibility.

Even projects deemed a success, such as the bike hire scheme have come with a massively inflated bill for the taxpayer. Some, such as the Cycle Super Highways, were so badly implemented that they have required the expense of being redesigned and refitted within their first three years.  There may, at times, be arguments for putting up fares, but against this backdrop of waste it’s impossible for the Mayor to claim this is one of those occasions.

Millions of people rely on London’s public transport system to get to work, making it both an unavoidable cost and a prerequisite to employment. Only a week ago the ONS revealed that wages across the UK had slumped by 0.2 per cent making it clear how much people are still struggling with the cost of living crisis. Boris Johnson’s above inflation fare increase of 3.5 per cent in January will undoubtedly make this worse.

Expecting commuters to pick up the bill for six years of vanity projects and waste will only exacerbate the problems Londoners face, the exact opposite of what the Mayor is meant to be there to do.

Val Shawcross AM is Labour’s City Hall spokesperson for transport

Val Shawcross is transport spokeswoman for the London Assembly Labour Group 

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Five of Scotland’s most exciting general election battles

Will unionists hook the big Salmond in Gordon? And can the Tories overrun the Scottish Borders? Everything's up for grabs. 

In 2015, the Scottish National Party won Scotland in a landslide. With the next election expected in 2020, politics for the next five years looked homogenous, managerial and predictable. 

But then came Brexit, talk of a second independence referendum, and an early election. Now everything's at play. Depending on your perspective, this is a proxy indyref2, or a chance to condemn the Brexit government, or the opporunity to turn Scotland blue. One thing is sure - local contests will not just be about collecting the bins on time, but about the great constitutional questions of the day. With a giant splash of egotism. 

Here is my pick of the constituency battles to watch:

1. Who’s the biggest unionist of them all?

Constituency: East Renfrewshire
Battle to watch: Blair McDougall (Labour) vs Paul Masterton (Tory)

If anything symbolised the #Indyreffightback, it was the toppling of Jim Murphy, the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire in 2015. Murphy had slogged away for the No campaign during the 2014 referendum, braving egg throwers and cybernat centurions to make the case for the UK in 100 towns across Scotland. Being ousted by the Scottish National Party’s Kirsten Oswald was the biggest metaphorical egg of them all. 

Still, Murphy only lost by 3,718 votes. The self-styled defenders of the union, the Scottish Tories, have spied an opportunity, and made East Renfrewshire a target seat. Paul Masterton, a local activist, hopes to follow in the footsteps of Jackson Carlaw, who snapped up the same area for the Tories in the Scottish parliamentary elections last year. 

But who’s that appearing on the horizon? Blair McDougall, the former Better Together chief, is waving Labour’s banner. And no one can accuse him of flip flopping on the independence question. 

Since quashing a second independence referendum is the priority for pro-union voters of East Renfrewshire choose, they are likely to vote tactically. So which candidate can persuade them  he’s the winner?

2. The best shade of yellow

Constituency: East Dunbartonshire
Battle: Jo Swinson (Lib Dem) vs John Nicolson (Labour)

When Jo Swinson first won her home constituency in 2005, she was just 25, and by her early thirties, she was pacing the inner sanctums of the Coalition government. But in 2015, East Dunbartonshire voters decided to give her an early retirement and opted for the former broadcaster, the SNP’s John Nicolson, instead by 2,167 votes. 

In England, the Lib Dem surge has been fuelled by an emotional Europeanism. Swinson, though, can sing “Ode to Joy” as many times as she wants – it won’t change the fact that Nicolson is also against Brexit.
So instead, the contest is likely to come down to two factors. One is the characters involved. Nicolson has used his media clout to raise his profile – but has also been accused of “bullying” STV into dropping its political editor Stephen Daisley (Nicolson denies the claims)

The other is the independence referendum. East Dunbartonshire voted 61.2 per cent to stay in the UK in 2014. If voters feel the same way, and vote tactically this time, Nicolson may wish to resurrect his TV career. 

3. Revenge of the Tories

Constituency: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
Battle: John Lamont (Tory) vs Calum Kerr (SNP)

And the winner is… anyone who can reel off this constituency name without twisting their tongue. Let’s call it BRK, or Project Blue. 

BRK, a rural constituency in the Scottish borders, was once a comfortable home for the Liberal Democrat Michael Moore. He was driven out in 2015 by the SNP’s Calum Kerr. Indeed, such was the political turmoil that Moore slumped to third place. Kerr’s biggest rival was the conservative John Lamont. 

Two years later, the electoral horns are sounding, and Lamont is so confident of his victory that he is standing down as an MSP. There were just 328 votes between him and Kerr last time round. So who will be the new ruler of BRK?

4. Labour’s last stand

Constituency: Edinburgh South
Battle: Ian Murray (Labour) vs everyone else

When Ian Murray first won Edinburgh South for Labour in 2010, he might have been in his early thirties, but he was surrounded by Labour heavyweights like Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy. Five years later, after a catastrophic election night, he was the only Labour MP left in Scotland. 

Murray’s survival is down partly to his seat – a leafy, academic constituency that epitomises Edinburgh’s pro-union, pro-Remain vote – and his no-nonsense opinion on both these issues (he’s no fan of Jeremy Corbyn either). A similarly-minded Labour candidate, Daniel Johnson, won the overlapping Scottish parliamentary constituency in 2016.

Now, though, Murray is fighting a defensive battle on two fronts. The SNP came second in 2015, and will likely field a candidate again. But those with longer memories know that Edinburgh South was once a Tory realm. Stephanie Smith, who is also standing for local elections, will be trying to take a bite out of Murray’s pro-union vote. 

Still, Murray has a good chance of outlasting the siege. As one Labour activist put it: “I think I’ll be spending the next six weeks camping out in Edinburgh South.” 

5. The big fish in the pond

Constituency: Gordon
Battle: Alex Salmond (SNP) vs Colin Clark (Tory)

Freed from the chains of high office, Alex Salmond is increasingly in touch with his inner charismatic bully. When not trying to wind up Anna Soubry, he is talking up a second independence referendum at inconvenient moments and baiting the Brexiteers. This is the big fish the pro-union movement would love to catch. 

But can they do it? Salmond won the seat in 2015 from the Liberal Democrats with a majority of 8,687 votes. Taking on this whopper is Colin Clark, a humble Tory councillor, and he knows what he’s up against.  He called for every unionist to back him, adding: “I have been in training since 2015 and I am fit and ready to win this seat in June.”

To get a sense of how much the Scottish referendum has changed politics, consider the fact that Labour activists are ludicrously excited by this prospect. But however slippery he may be, the SNP goliath in person can win over even devout unionists.  I’m not betting on a hooked Salmond any time soon. 

 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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