April 29, 2008
The head of London’s rail and bus watchdog
has switched allegiance from Ken Livingstone to Boris
Johnson, his Conservative rival, after accusing the
Mayor of London of being deceitful on fares and “arrogantly”
ignoring public opinion.
Brian Cooke, chairman of London TravelWatch
, had supported Mr Livingstone when he was elected in
2000 and 2004 but made a devastating attack on him yesterday.
Mr Cooke’s 1,700-word statement, made
in a personal capacity, was particularly damaging because
it contained a long list of criticisms of Mr Livingstone’s
recent handling of public transport – the area in which
the mayor claims to have the strongest record.
On fares, Mr Cooke said that Mr Livingstone
had misled passengers about his plans after the London
elections. Mr Livingstone has pledged to freeze fares
but Transport for London officials have secretly discussed
needing to increase them to implement the mayor’s transport
Mr Cooke said: “Sometimes one wonders
whether the truth and Mr Livingstone sit together at
“There is strong evidence that the
current mayor has played with both Tube and bus fares
for his own political aims.”
Mr Cooke also accused the Labour incumbent
of failing to abide by the results of his own public
consultations on transport. “Ken has paid lip service
to real consultation on a whole raft of issues and I
don’t believe Boris will have the arrogance of the ‘Ken
knows best’ policy.
“An example was the introduction of
free travel on buses for young people which many, including
London TravelWatch, predicted would cause major problems
of antisocial behaviour – and not only did but still
Mr Cooke said that as mayor, Mr Livingstone
had interfered in the running of Transport for London
(TfL) and had failed to appoint a strong, independent
board to hold the transport authority to account.
This had allowed TfL to become a bloated
bureaucracy, he said, with its last annual accounts
showing 112 people being paid more than £100,000 a year
and a further 1,300 earning between £50,000 and £100,000.
“TfL also spends vast sums on research
yet it sets the questions, or often the mayor does,
and it alone usually sees the answer.
“I believe that Boris Johnson is much
more likely to appoint a strong board for TfL. In my
view, many of the current TfL board are very weak, with
frequent changes as they fall out of favour and then
Ken removes some and puts others in, TfL and Ken Livingstone
are so joined at the hip that the board seem frightened
Mr Cooke said Mr Livingstone was a
“Zone One mayor” who did not take sufficient account
of the needs of people living in outer London who had
less access to public transport and were more dependent
on their cars.
He also criticised Mr Livingstone’s
manifesto pledge to give people aged 60 and over the
right to travel on public transport without charge at
all times. At present, they can use buses and Tube trains
after 9am and overland trains after 9.30am. A 24-hour
free pass would result in even greater overcrowding
in the morning peak and be funded by higher fares for
other passengers, Mr Cooke said.
Mr Johnson won over Mr Cooke in two
meetings in which he promised to make TfL more accountable
and suggested that London TravelWatch could have a place
on the authority’s board.
Mr Cooke, who is scheduled to step
down from the watchdog in September, may play a role
in Mr Johnson’s transport team. The Conservative candidate
has said very little about the people he would appoint
to key positions were he to be elected on Thursday.
Mr Cooke’s statement concluded: “When
you read the transport manifestos of the two leading
candidates there is much in both that can be attractive
but when it comes to realistic delivery I believe that
a Boris Johnson administration would serve Londoners
However, he rejected Mr Johnson’s most
well-known transport policy: to replace the “bendy bus”
with a modern Routemaster. “I do not believe that scrapping
the bendy bus is a good idea. In Central London they
move huge numbers of people in relative comfort quite
Mr Johnson said: “I am delighted that
Brian – who knows better than anyone the real concerns
of Londoners when it comes to transport issues – has
chosen to endorse my campaign. His endorsement is reflective
of a wider desire for change in London.”