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Saturday, 13 January, 2001, 09:02 GMT
Bob Kiley: Going Underground
London's new transport supremo, Bob Kiley
Former CIA agent Bob Kiley has been drafted in to try to save London's ailing Tube network. His four-year contract started on Monday. By Andrew Walker of the BBC's News Profiles Unit.

It is the most unlikely of alliances: the left-wing rebel, scourge of the Establishment, and the former CIA man and one-time union basher, united against the plans of Big Government.

But the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and his new Commissioner for Transport, Robert Kiley, are both strongly opposed to the Public Private Partnership (PPP) which the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and the Treasury believe could be the solution to the funding of London's ailing Underground system.

The problem is there for all to see. The Tube takes a billion passengers every year. Indeed, a third of workers in central London use it daily. But a breakdown occurs, on average, every 16 minutes and one in 12 escalators is out of order at any one time.

Even normally grudging New Yorkers say he did a good job

Gene Russianoff, New York Straphangers' Campaign
The system is starved of investment while ticket prices continue to rise and safety issues worry travellers, fewer of whom take the Central Line today than in the 1950s.

Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, says that "it is difficult to exaggerate the scale of the problems Bob Kiley inherits".

"There are three main areas which he will have to deal with: introducing better management, securing reinvestment in the system and introducing congestion charging."

Bob Kiley says that the PPP, with its convoluted 8bn proposal to split the Tube into four separate parts, three of which would be run by private consortia for up to 30 years, is "fatally and fundamentally flawed".

Ken Livingstone on a London Tube train
Ken Livingstone: Kiley's unlikely bedfellow
He would prefer to raise the 15bn to 20bn needed to renovate London's transport system through City bonds which will themselves be secured by fare receipts.

He has also asked the chancellor of the exchequer to provide the Tube with a 250m-a-year subsidy.

Whatever his views, they will be listened to very carefully. For, rather than being some unknown Yank brought in on a mere whim by the mayor, Bob Kiley comes with a formidable personal track record: he is the man credited with saving the New York and Boston subway systems.

Robert R. Kiley was born in Minneapolis, the son of a manager of a Woolworth store. Educated at the renowned Notre Dame University, Indiana and at the Graduate School at Harvard, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1963 after having been the leader of a CIA-funded student organisation.


Although former colleagues insist that he is not a "spook", Kiley travelled the world in the 1960s fighting communism and spying on radical students before settling down as the executive assistant to that most frigid of all Cold War warriors, the director of central intelligence, Richard Helms.

He left the CIA in 1970 and went into management. Then tragedy struck. His first wife and two children died in a car crash. His father died two months later and Bob Kiley threw himself in to his work.

The results were spectacular. Following a successful stint running Boston's subway in the 1970s, the '80s saw him transforming the Big Apple's metro system.

Bob Kylie
Bob Kylie: the commuters' saviour?
A somewhat prickly character, Kiley spent 9bn on improvements, raised fares and took a "zero tolerance" approach to fare dodgers, many of whom were arrested and locked up.

"He spent the money right," says Gene Russianoff, attorney for the Straphangers' Campaign, New York's largest commuter group, "and the system dramatically improved.

"All 6,000 subway cars were replaced or overhauled and the graffiti disappeared. Even normally grudging New Yorkers say he did a good job."

Now ensconced in a 2m house in Belgravia and on 2m four-year contract, Kiley is rising to meet the challenge before him.

Looking west

He is said to want to bring 100 of his former American colleagues to manage London's transport, currently run by what Ken Livingstone has cuttingly described as "dullards".

But all of this is predicated on PPP being scrapped. If it is not, Kiley says, he might go elsewhere.

Tony Travers believes that such foreign intervention is overdue. "The prime minister might be encouraged to be more creative when looking for managers of public services", he says.

"He could, for instance, think of going to, say, Australia, for the next head of Railtrack instead of appointing these Buggin's Turn finance directors who usually get the job."

What with the England football team and, until recently, the Millennium Dome in the hands of an overseas manager, Robert Kiley's appointment might indicate yet another sea-change in British culture.

See also:

08 Jan 01 | UK Politics
16 Dec 00 | UK Politics
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