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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 12:58 GMT
Dobson's tax-free transport pledge

Labour's official candidate for London mayor Frank Dobson has pledged not to introduce congestion charging on cars if elected.

Speaking at a Westminster news conference on Monday Mr Dobson also announced that he would raise Tube fares in line with inflation and that no extra taxes would be levied on parking.

London Mayor
The policy announcements come as the poll leader in the mayoral race, Ken Livingstone, began an advertisement campaign urging Londoners to back his independent challenge for the capital's top job.

A phone-line has also been launched to take donations.

Mr Livingstone, who no longer has the backing of a party machine since being suspended by Labour said: "We don't know how much we can raise but we need 500,000 or so."

mr livingstone
Mr Livingstone says the election is 'a referendum on the Tube'
Mr Dobson's policy statement comes as a challenge to Mr Livingstone, who is expected to publish his campaign manifesto later this month.

Mr Dobson said: "I will bring in no increased taxes, fares, or charges in my first four years as mayor.

"If I have not delivered better transport in London in four years it will have not cost you a penny."

When challenged on how he would improve the transport situation in the capital without raising any extra money, Mr Dobson stressed the merits of the government's proposed partial sell-off of the London Underground. He said no extra injection of public money was needed to go ahead.

Although he ruled out a congestion charging scheme during a possible first term, Mr Dobson hinted a computerised congestion charging scheme system may be brought in during a second term once the groundwork had been laid.

Improving the buses

Acknowledging that the capital's transport problems would require time to turn around, Mr Dobson said he would take immediate action on enforcing bus routes to make services faster and more efficient.

Tory candidate Steve Norris also announced a fresh transport policy on Monday.

Unveiling a scheme to charge contractors for digging up London's streets, Mr Norris said: "At the moment we allow utilities and cable operators to dig up the streets of London for non-essential work at times that suit them, not the people who use the roads.

"And we do not charge them for the privilege."

Meanwhile the prime minister's official spokesman said Tony Blair was confident of a Dobson victory in May "provided there's a proper focus on policy".

Barbed beard

Mr Dobson's bid to seize the initiative on the policy agenda comes after a weekend of reports that Labour image consultants had concluded that the former cabinet minister would be able to challenge Mr Livingstone more effectively if he were clean-shaven.

But the Holborn and St Pancras MP said that he had told the image-makers to "get stuffed", adding: "If you don't like what you see, don't vote for me - but listen to what I've got to say."

Asked if he believed that Mr Dobson should shave off the beard, Ken Livingstone said: "If he wants to look like a spring chicken like me, yes."

Later on Monday Mr Livingstone, Mr Dobson, Tory candidate Steve Norris and the Liberal Democrat's Susan Kramer attended a one-day conference and debate on mayors organised by the European Commission.

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See also:

12 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Hands off my beard: Dobson
09 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Livingstone's race for campaign cash
08 Mar 00 | UK Politics
PM rallies behind Dobson
07 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Mayor candidates line up for debate
07 Mar 00 | UK Politics
The mayor race in pictures
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