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Thursday, July 22, 1999 Published at 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK

UK Politics

Blair faces commuters

Travellers are being promised a smoother and speedier ride

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his deputy are leaving the comfort of their limousines to see what commuters think of plans to overhaul London Underground.

The BBC's Tony Symonds: "It's now standard practice for ministers to walk when talking about transport"
Tony Blair and John Prescott are dropping in at St James's Park tube station in the centre of the capital after London Transport revealed how it would spend £517m of extra government cash for the underground system.

The money, announced last week, will help provide quicker and more frequent train services as well as station improvements.

It will help pave the way for the planned partial privatisation of the underground in 2001.

New investment

The dilapidated state of much of the network is likely to be one of the key issues in the election for the capital's new mayor and assembly.

The need for the new investment was highlighted again on Thursday by another rush hour of train delays and service suspensions.

This summer, travellers are also having to cope with the temporary closure of the Circle Line and part of the Northern Line.

However, Mr Blair and Mr Prescott, have chosen to visit a station where they are least likely to face the full wrath of commuters.

St James's Park is the stop used by many civil servants at the numerous government departments based in the area. It is also opposite LT's headquarters.

'Embrace the culture of service'

Speaking at the announcement of LT's plans Mr Blair said the government would provide resources but in return it was up to Tube managers to provide a better service.

[ image: Tony Blair says a mediocre Tube service is not good enough]
Tony Blair says a mediocre Tube service is not good enough
Mr Blair also announced that a new government task force would be set up to ensure that promised improvements were delivered.

"We cannot sustain pouring in money and getting back mediocrity.

"We need a change of culture, we need enthusiasm and we need to embrace the culture of service," he said.

"Until we can build extra capacity into the system, the increase in passengers means overcrowding and more discomfort - so there's an urgent job to be done."

The extra money is to go on:

  • More frequent and faster services on the Central and Northern lines and track upgrades to give smoother rides on the Bakerloo, Metropolitan and Victoria lines
  • Escalator and lift replacements at various stations including St John's Wood, London Bridge and Waterloo
  • Better travel information services including telesales and more use of customer care assistance at key stations
  • Improved customer security with more closed-circuit TVs and help points at stations
  • Improvements at stations including Paddington, Waterloo, Earls Court, Leicester Square and Marble Arch.

London Transport Chairman Sir Malcolm Bates said LT and the government shared a common vision of "a reliable safe and efficient Underground that meets the needs of London - now and in the future".

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