It took an unlikely series of events to make Boris Johnson become mayor since a year ago he was not even among the runners and riders. And I suspect that his election will have a series of an even unlikelier outcomes. His politics until his election as mayor were as shambolic as his delivery, an unintelligeble blend of populism, kneejerk conservative values and London liberalism. He has got away with a failure to keep his trousers on, ignoring red lights on his bicycle and insulting the populations of Africa, Portsmouth and Liverpool.
He will not, however, get away with messing up transport for Londoners. I suspect that he will be far more sensible than he sounded in the hustings and therefore, in that vein, here is an open letter to Boris outlining a dozen things which he ought to do:
1. Writing this a couple of weeks after his election, it is gratifying to see that you will probably do the first, which is to keep Peter Hendy as Commissioner for Transport. Hendy might have sent a couple of slightly incautious emails but he was not part of the ghastly Ken clique and is an extremely capable and personable transport man.
2. Do everything, too, to ensure that Tim O’Toole stays at the helm of London Underground. He has almost legendary status among his staff and he has proved adept at handling everything fromd day to day operations to terrorist outrages and terrible industrial relations.
3. While on the subject of industrial relations, abandon plans to get a no-strike deal which will just provoke the unions into a series of strikes and make them look like the victims. No point going there, Boris. On the other hand, be prepared to face off threats from Bob Crow and his mates. It may take a day or two of strikes, but it will be worth it.
4. Your biggest task: renegotiate the failed Metronet contract with extreme care. This is probably the issue on which your whole administration could founder. Do not be ideological about what needs to be kept in-house and what should be outsourced. Be firm with Gordon Brown – it may simply not be possible to reinstate the risk required to keep the deal off his balance sheet. That’s his problem.
5. Abandon plans, too, for bringing back the routemaster. Keep bendy buses on the main arteries into London where they perform a very valuable function as a kind of trams on tyres. They are much more popular than you think. But also try to develop a double decker version, with few seats and lots of standing room on the ground floor and seating on top, with three doors for entry and exit.
6. Keep the congestion charge as it is, including the western zone which, frankly, has not caused much bother. But examine, too, the possibility of a wider London-wide system with a more sophisticated monitoring system that will allow variable pricing. The congestion charge will be looking pretty old hat by 2012.
7. As you have announced, keep on rolling out Oyster pay as you go and don’t allow the train operators to hold you to ransom on this. Ultimately it will benefit them as well.
8. Keep in mind, too, the idea of expanding the London Overground system which makes logistical sense so that eventually London local government would control the suburban train service.
9. Close off Oxford Street from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch, to all traffic, whatever Hendy and the Taxi Drivers Association have to say and then commission a free cheap tram system with open seats to operate as a shuttle. That will transform the economy and atmosphere of the West End.
10. Don’t even think of tinkering around with the traffic lights to try to give cars more time to get through London. They will only get stuck at the next lights.
11.Finally, on bikes, implement a plan that begins to reallocate road capacity from cars to bikes. That will take more than just a few lousy cycle routes. It will take a concerted plan to ease cars out of central London. Go cycle down Tavistock Place, where there is London’s best segregated cycle route, at 8 30am and see the flows of cyclists along it to see what could be done, with a bit of courage, throughout the capital.
12. Oh, and scrap the plan for the East London river crossing which will give you lots of capital to spend on cycle paths and getting rid of gyratory systems.
And finally Boris, pray for a bit of good luck – no terrorist outrage, no collapse of the Blackwall tunnel, no major breakdown on the tube, and no meltdown of the Tube Lines contract.