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 

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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