The Truth

Arrogant Ken Livingstone plays politics with bus and Tube pledges, says watchdog .........

added 29/4/08

From The Times
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 policy.

Mr Cooke said: “Sometimes one wonders whether the truth and Mr Livingstone sit together at all.

“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 is.”

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 of critiquing.”

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 better.”

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 quickly.”

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.”