Mayor pledges 'friendly' buses

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The Independent Online

Ken Livingstone will promise Londoners that if they re-elect him as Mayor, they will have customer-friendly buses with many more women in the driving seats.

A leaked draft of the Mayor's election manifesto boasts that he has been responsible for putting 1,000 more buses on the roads and giving them room by cutting private traffic through the congestion charge.

Now Mr Livingstone is promising to make the buses "more accessible and environmentally friendly". Drivers will be trained to use the roads with more care and make passengers feel at ease. The increase in the number of women bus drivers will be "dramatic". Children under 18 will be allowed to ride free.

His manifesto also hints at the future for Britain's rail system, by revealing that he will seek to have a London Regional Rail Authority established to run the capital's suburban railway.

As a Labour candidate, Mr Livingstone will have cleared this with the Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, who is overseeing a review of the entire rail system.

But there is no mention anywhere in the manifesto of London's famous fleet of black cabs, which will increase the suspicion of cab drivers that Mr Livingstone is no friend of theirs. Alan Fleming, the leader of London's self-employed cabbies, believes that the Mayor will try to enforce new European standards on exhaust emissions, which could cost individual cabbies up to £2,700 each.

Mr Livingstone said: "Air pollution is estimated to cause 1,600 premature deaths every year in London, and cause ill-health in thousands more, particularly children and older people. That is why I want to make London a low emission zone. I have been talking to taxi drivers about this for more than a year."

Mr Fleming said: "If they want this to happen, they should pay for it, otherwise they could force 10,000 cabbies off the road. The trade has always had to buy the vehicles they specify, now they are telling us that these vehicles are no good."

Transport is expected to run alongside crime as one of the two main issues in London's mayoral election, which takes place on 10 June, with polls giving Mr Livingstone a clear lead.