MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
The tube! I am chairing the London Assembly’s Transport Committee this morning and Tim O’Toole came in to give evidence – Managing Director of London Underground (LU) for Transport for London – followed by the hard men of the private companies – the Chief Execs of Tubelines and Metronet.
There was recently an explosive exchange of bad will in the press between LU and the private companies. The Northern Line is failing appallingly and the engineering overruns on a Monday morning are becoming legendary.
Tube users are getting a raw deal. Improvements, such as they are, are small and slow – and some areas are getting worse. These guys – the three of them between them – share the blame.
In the press Tim O’Toole has basically said that the private companies are not putting resources in fast enough and are thinking about their profits (we anti-PPP brigade could have said ‘told you so’!). There is a hint that he believes that the penalties that Metronet are incurring are not high enough and that it may be cheaper for them to overrun on a Monday morning causing misery for those trying to use the tube rather than finish on time.
With regard to the Northern Line – a new proposal from Tubelines made its public debut. It is clear to anyone who uses it twice a day (as I do – and yes I declare a great interest) that radical renewal and repair is called for. Apparently Tubelines have submitted a proposal to LU (Tim) which breaks the line into seven sections. Each section would be closed and totally redone, with the whole line taking about a year. The public will be consulted on this (or told about it) and replacement transport will be provided while each section is shut.
It’s only a proposal – but it’s the only game in town as far as I can see at the moment.
Anyway – there was a bit of a squabble about line closure per se – as this enables the private companies to do their engineering work more quickly and cheaper. Who reaps the financial benefit? LU (and I) think that we (the public) should get a refund on monies saved – but the private companies will undoubtedly find reasons not to pay it.
The other raging battle is over figures and discrepancies. In his media outburst, it was clear that Mr O’Toole believes (and the report to the TfL board says so) that only a tiny percentage of work promised on renewal or repair of stations and escalators etc has taken place. In committee both sides were shirty. I put it to both of them – and they equivocated about interpretation of figures to the point where they could both be right.
Just keep up the pressure – that’s all I can do. The PPP is a dreadful contract and Tim O’Toole is doing a good job considering the pup he’s been sold. I suspect his very public outburst on the performance of private companies came as a result of extreme frustration with a contract that puts him quite squarely between a rock and a hard place.