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banner Tuesday, 11 April, 2000, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Light at the end of the tunnel?

In the first of a series, BBC News Online's Sarah Teasdale looks at the issues the London mayor will have to deal with, beginning with the London Underground.

Closed stations, broken escalators, cancelled trains and overcrowding are everyday miseries that anyone travelling from A to B by London Underground has to cope with.

The issue of the ageing Tube network - and also the lack of it - has dominated the race to become mayor of London.

More people use the Tube than the rest of the country's rail network put together. There are 2.5 million journeys made on the London Underground every day on 500 trains, serving some 260 stations run by about 16,000 staff.

The Tube claims it needs 1bn over the next year for immediate repairs and upgrades. Crucially, it says it needs a further 7bn over the next decade.

The delays and rows over the completion of the Jubilee Line extension last year have focused attention on that funding debate.

The mayor will be required to develop and implement a strategic transport network for the capital although the government has already made clear it will push through a public-private partnership (PPP) to finance the Tube before allowing the Mayor to take the system into the plan.

Love-hate relationship

The love-hate relationship between Londoners and their transport system is embodied by the website Tubehell, its very name summing up the feelings of its users.

Samir Satchu, founder of Tubehell, believes Londoners are right to be angry.

"The Tube is the heart and soul of London, it's an institution and should remain so.


Trains: Commuters say they are tatty and old
"We all spend a hell of a lot of time on the Tube, the average Londoner spends one hour and 20 minutes on the Tube each day.

"But they have got us over a barrel because we have to use it. Fares can go up and there's nothing we can do about it."

Richard Pout, the spokesman for Transport 2000 Greater London, is fanatical about the Tube.

Ask him what the mayor should do for the Tube and he instantly replies: "A sane funding package is the most important thing."


Where the candidates stand
Frank Dobson: PPP
Susan Kramer: Bond system
Ken Livingstone: Bond system
Steve Norris: Full privatisation
He explains the current problems with the Tube are symptomatic of decades of under investment.

"There has been a lack of a coherent strategy for maintaining the system, and also developing the system and expanding it.

"There has also been a systematic lack of investment in the last 30 years."

He uses the Victoria Line as an example of what is wrong with the system.

"Since the Victoria Line was finished in 1969 there has been practically no investment in it.

"So now you get the crisis with the escalators which were new in 1969 but which are knackered now like the track and trains.

"It is a railway which is 30 years old and there is no coherent programme for up-grading the line when the trains end their economic life in five years time."

Government cash

Mr Pout believes the mayor has got to look at the whole range of options for financing the Tube but believes the final decision should include government money.

"We've seen with the national railway system that privatisation doesn't work.

"There is scope for elements of private sector management. Personally, I believe there is evidence that a PFI deal on a supply and maintain service could work although they may prove expensive in the long run."

At the same time as the mayor is financing the modernisation and development of the Tube, there will also be huge pressure to cut fares.


What's wrong with the Tube
1994/5 - 1998/9: 24% increase in signal and track failures
1994 - 1998: 28% increase in delays and station closures of 15 minutes or more
Repairs needed to third of core escalators
1997- 1998: Breakdowns every 16 minutes
(Source: Capital Transport Campaign)
"Fares should be frozen so that in real terms they come down," says Mr Pout.

"We want a standard fare package through London so you pay the same on the Tube as you do on rail, each franchise should not have different fares."

The mayor is also going to have to look at the long term strategy of the Tube and how it should be integrated with rail services.

Mr Pout believes the much talked about extension of the East London line is long over due and must be one of the first projects the mayor embarks upon while looking at taking the service further south and east.

Cynthia Hay from Capital Transport Campaign is also pressing for the mayor to take urgent action to save the system from decades of under investment.

"People have not been fiddling while the Tube collapses.


Overcrowding: Even entraces to system suffer
"I strongly believe the number of delays to passengers have increased and are parallel to the deterioration in infrastructure."

She goes on to list the Tube's other major problems the mayor will have to deal with: "Fare increases have been above inflation and so far customers have not seen any benefits, in fact it's a worse service if anything.

"Passengers have to put up with overcrowding and the closure of some parts of the lines and stations is clearly going to have a knock-on effect.

"There is the physical problem of not being able to get on to the Tube, you simply cannot get on.

"So the mayor will have to come up with an effective way of increasing capacity, although that will be difficult with the current infrastructure.

"Another major problem is there's not enough staff, if there's a problem or an emergency it can be difficult to contact staff."

On funding, she too believes that there is no effective way of modernising the Tube without some kind of government subsidy.

"Other countries subsidise the running costs of their underground as they see public transport benefiting everybody."

But couldn't the mayor impose a congestion tax on motorists or work place charging to invest in the Tube in that case?

"Congestion charges could go towards the Tube. I don't think private finance is more efficient though, we've seen what happened with the railways," says Ms Hay.

"It is not the purpose of a public transport system to make a profit. It has a social, economic and environmental function which is not reconciled with making a profit."

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See also:

22 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Norris proposes 24-hour Tube
29 Mar 00 | London Mayor
Tube bond plan 'more expensive'
04 Apr 00 | London Mayor
Candidates battle over transport
03 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Dobson warns tube bosses
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