Right of Reply: A mayor of London candidate responds to Ken Livingstone's pledge to freeze transport fares

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The Independent Culture
LONDON' S TRANSPORT system is dreadful, and getting worse. All London mayoral candidates agree on that. Ken's solution is superficially attractive. Unfortunately, it would make matters worse.

Consider two facts: London Underground is now operating at capacity, and needs massive investment (much more than the pounds 450m promised by Mr Prescott) just to survive. Cutting fares cannot attract new customers, because there isn't any more space for them. At rush-hour, passengers must squeeze themselves into a wall of human flesh, and key stations are sometimes closed as the platforms are overcrowded. I would peg fares at inflation, and issue bonds to raise capital.

Ken's suggestion is that lost revenues be replaced by a new tax on drivers. But the Government spends a smaller proportion of car taxes on transport than at any time since the invention of the internal combustion engine. The Government's promise to allow London to keep its congestion taxes is hollow, because they are cutting subsidies at the same time. Result: more taxes on Londoners, but no more investment in transport.

You cannot punish drivers without creating extra capacity first. That is why I have put forward plans for a new express bus system, creating new strategic routes - radial and orbital - across the whole of London. These buses would have fewer stops, and would for the most part travel along dedicated bus lanes.

Oh, and by the way, for the first two years I would offer an introductory fare right across London of just pounds 1. Isn't that a contradiction? No, because my new bus scheme would provide immediate extra capacity. We can tempt drivers out of their cars if we give them somewhere comfortable to go.

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