Labour peer Lord Sugar, taking time out from winding up Piers Morgan, today Tweeted his opposition to Labour’s London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, saying he “must NOT get in on 3rd May”. As expected, Sugar’s comments have made waves on the news and in the blogs; equally predictably, talk of policy, as ever during this race, has struggled to get a look in.
Take transport, for example, one of the key battlegrounds in the contest. In yesterday’s Evening Standard, Lord Adonis, the former transport secretary and, like Sugar, a Labour peer, praised Livingstone’s legacy from his first stint in City Hall and said his ‘Fare Deal’ fares cut plan – under fire like no other from the right – was economically sound.
London would not be hosting the Olympics in 100 days had we not invested in its transport system. With the mayoral campaign dominated by the row over whether we have to choose between investment or cutting fares, Londoners should recall who is really responsible for the current improvements: Ken Livingstone.
Boris Johnson says we must choose between a £1,000 fare cut over four years, proposed by Ken, and the end of TfL’s investment programme. Yesterday, leaked Transport for London emails even claimed Ken’s proposal would cause a cash crunch in 2015. But this is a false choice.
Passenger numbers are accelerating faster than forecasted. The Tube had its busiest day ever on December 9 last year, with 4.17 million journeys, seven per cent higher than the same day in 2010. Ken’s seven per cent fares cut simply returns part of London Transport’s projected surplus for the next four years to Londoners while protecting planned investment.
After analysing Transport for London’s accounts and projections, I firmly believe Ken’s proposed fare cut is both justified and entirely compatible with essential infrastructure investment. Crossrail and other planned investments will still proceed. TfL’s capital budget has been underspent by £1.2 billion over the past four years. The challenge is to get investment under way fast enough. Stronger leadership is essential.
Fares have gone up year on year far ahead of inflation. Ken’s proposed cut would cost approximately £270 million a year, against far higher projected surpluses over the next three years. Cutting fares will also put £1.1 billion back into the London economy.
Over the years, Ken has called all the big transport issues right. He was right to invest in buses and the Tube, to introduce the congestion charge and Oyster card, and to launch Crossrail and London Overground. And he’s right this time about a fare cut and new investment in our transport network.
• Boris and Ken clash over tax dodge claims 3 Apr 2012
• Pound for Pound, you’re better off with Ken 13 Mar 2012
• Boris’s 9-point plan is a bridge to nowhere 5 Mar 2012
• Police numbers: “Under this mayoralty there will be no cuts in the police” – 2,132 fewer police officers since March 2010
• Crime: “I’m delighted to say crime is down… crime is well down in London” – Knife crime up 13.6%
• Congestion charge: “I will certainly not allow the congestion charge to go up” – Up 25%
• Housing: “We will have built 50,000 affordable homes by May next year” – Only 56 affordable homes started between April and September
• Transport fares: “I think we can do it [scrapping bendy buses and bringing back Routemasters] and we can do it without, certainly without increasing fares for Londoners” – Week bus pass up 47 per cent
Tonight at 8:00, the candidates square off in the Sky News debate - just two weeks out from polling day.