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Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Wednesday, 25 November 2009
The world in one city



Crossrail construction site
Mayor Boris Johnson at the Crossrail site at Tottenham Court Road

Tom Edwards
By Tom Edwards
BBC London's Transport Correspondent

Transport in London is absolutely vital, the success of the capital depends on it and it goes straight to the heart of City Hall.

When it does not work - for example when heavy snow means the buses are suspended - everyone wants to know why and questions are asked at the highest level.

There have been huge changes in the last decade, not least because transport is one area where the mayor has direct control. This means it can be used to make a political point, a statement or leave a legacy.

Billions have been ploughed in to the infrastructure, millions use the buses and the tube every day, but it is subjective and none of that matters when you miss a meeting due to a service being cancelled.

And all of this investment is happening while London's population is growing, so any improvements in terms of capacity means that we are standing still.

However, transport chiefs can look back at a decade and point to the fact that there has been a 5% shift away from the private car to public transport, walking and cycling. That has simply not happened anywhere else in the country.

The Tube

More people use the tube everyday than the whole of the UK rail network put together - some three million a day - and it was long overdue an upgrade after decades of under investment.

At the beginning of the decade the Northern Line was nicknamed "the misery line". The way to solve this was the Public Private Partnership (PPP) despite concerns at the time and a legal challenge.

London Underground (LU) entered into two PPP contracts in April 2003 for the maintenance and renewal of the Tube; the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly line contract went to the Tube Lines consortium, while Metronet took on the remaining lines.

It was meant to bring private sector expertise to the upgrade of the Tube.

Tube maintenance workers
The upgrade of the Underground is long overdue

As the London Assembly however said: "The maintenance and renewal of the Tube network requires a vast, hugely expensive and disruptive programme of work that affects large numbers of Londoners every day. And the financing and contractual relationships behind the delivery of those works are extraordinarily complex.".

Billions did go in but Metronet got into trouble and went into administration at a heavy cost to the tax payer. By May 2008 the Metronet contracts were back in LU's hands.

The other PPP company Tube Lines is doing much better with much improvement on the Northern Line although there are delays to the upgrade of the Jubilee Line that could well now run "well into 2010" as one source told me.

And there are still some concerns about the cost upgrades of the Jubilee and the Piccadilly.

The real improvements though we are still waiting for. As the former boss of London Underground Tim O'Toole said the toys are only just starting to come out of the box.

We are now getting new Victoria Line trains, new sub surface trains on the Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith and City and District lines. The Waterloo and City line has been upgraded to add 25% more capacity, and a seventh carriage added to all Jubilee line trains to boost capacity by 17%.

But money is extremely tight in Transport for London's budget.

Station upgrades have been dropped and deferred as has step-free access at many tube stations.

What it means is you could be getting on a state of the art of train with new seats and air conditioning - but you'll have to go through a rather shabby and old station to get to it.

Passenger numbers have dipped slightly from an all-time high due to the recession but capacity is still a huge issue. London Underground does take great pride though from the fact that overall customer satisfaction has gone up now, proving perhaps that Londoners are appreciating some improvements.

Congestion Charge

Ken Livingstone had the same zeal for congestion charging as Boris Johnson does for cycling. The motivation initially was to reduce congestion and it did work in those early days.

Environmentalists said London was leading the world when the Central London Congestion Charge zone was introduced in 2003. It was expanded to the Western Extension in 2007. Congestion has crept back up to pre-congestion charging levels due, it is thought, to road works.

It does make money; in 2008 Congestion Charging generated net revenues of £148.5m, which was invested back into improvements to the transport network across London.

Oyster card
The Oyster card is popular with Londoners

And plans to turn it into a CO2 charge and have a £25 charge for more polluting vehicles were scrapped by Boris Johnson. He also wants to get rid of the Western Extension Zone and that will hit the revenue.

It's also angered environmental campaigners who say scrapping that and the CO2 charge plans is a backward step. There are now plans to increase the congestion charge, to £10 a day, but also plans to make it much easier to pay. London became a Low Emission Zone for trucks aiming to reduce pollution in 2008.

Oyster

One big difference for commuters in London is the introduction of the Oyster card system. Introduced in 2003, driven by cheaper fares most commuters now have one - this is one thing that does what it says: "Quick cheap and convenient."

It also means huge amounts of cash no longer have to be collected every day. On January 2nd you will finally be able to use it on all of London's overland trains.

There will be quirks with fares but most commuters think Oyster is a superb innovation.

Transport for London is now helping to introduce this in New York (not without criticism from the Unions).

Buses

London's bus network is unrecognisable to the one which operated 10 years ago. For one thing there are very few of the much loved jump on jump off iconic Routemasters left. But the bus fleet and the numbers of passengers using buses has exploded.

London's buses carried 2.18 billion passengers in 2007, an increase of 52% from 1999. With around 6.4 million journeys made on the network every weekday.

The changes haven't been without controversy - the end of the Routemaster and the introduction of the bendy bus - is soon to come full circle as the bendy buses are phased out and the Mayor plans to introduce a new Routemaster.

Boris Johnson's critics have pointed out this will cost Transport for London (TfL) much more as more buses will have to be run on bendy bus routes.

And there are signs the high level of public subsidy given to the bus network is coming to an end. The Mayor Boris Johnson faced with a financial black hole has said reducing services is now on the cards.

Cycling

Cycling has rocketed up the political agenda since London elected a cycling mayor Boris Johnson. It was already increasing in popularity but ambitious targets have been set to increase it even more.

London has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people cycling with a 107% increase in the last 10 years. That's half a million journeys a day.

Cycling in London
Cycling is high on the political agenda

The budget for cycling has gone up to £111 million. Half of that will be spent on the new bike hire scheme.

There will also be cycle superhighways - direct but not segregated cycle lanes into the centre of town from places like South Wimbledon along the A12 into Bank. And there is some innovative thinking - cyclists being able to turn left on red and ride up one way streets.

The big issues though remain safety and facilities in particular the number of deaths caused in collisions with left turning HGVs. TfL say they are spending money on cycling infrastructure, training, promotion and education. Critics say it's a start but its not enough.

Rail

To the long distance commuter the last decade has seen massive changes. Just over 10 years ago the Paddington Rail crash contributed to the end of Railtrack and lead eventually to a huge improvement in safety.

However many train operating companies are continually criticised for offering a poor service at a huge cost and there are serious questions over whether privatisation has worked.

Billions have been ploughed in to the infrastructure, millions use the buses and the tube everyday, but it's subjective and none of that matters when you miss a meeting due to a service being cancelled
Tom Edwards

In particular with the East Coast Main Line now being taken back under the control of the government and threats to strip National Express of other franchises and that's lead to calls for a full-scale re-nationalisation.

The success stories - some of my colleagues won't have a bad word said about Chiltern railways and there's Eurostar. But the only high speed rail link the country will soon be opened up to other competitors so expect good deals on that line in the future.

The Mayor himself has virtually no control over National Rail services within Greater London - one day this may change.

Boris Johnson does, though, control the rebranded Overground. The former Silverlink network once described as one of the UK's most neglected railways. The network is now undergoing a £1.4 billion transformation.

The Docklands Light Railway has also undergone a two-year £300m upgrade to enable it to run three-car trains bringing a 50 per cent increase in capacity. TfL also now operates the Tramlink system in Croydon.

Eurostar itself moved to the £800m St Pancras International site from Waterloo in November 2007. The renovated station has been a big success beginning the trend for retail "destination stations". And that transport hub will be key during the Olympics in 2012.

Airports

Ten years ago I met Michael O'Leary when he held a press conference in Luton. It was on the first floor of a rather shabby boozer in the town centre. This was just before the budget airlines really took off and who'd have thought Ryanair would now be looking to take over Aer Lingus 10 years on.

The last decade has been one where flying opened up to everyone with cheap flights from carriers such as Ryanair and Easyjet at Luton.

With that came pressure for expansion at the region's airports. This has been met with fierce opposition at Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick and to a lesser extent Luton.

The main transport story of last year was the Government's decision to give the go-ahead to a third runway at Heathrow.

This caused real anger amongst a coalition of local people, councils and environmentalists. The business community though says London has to have a global hub airport. Aviation analysts I've spoken to say you need a hub to get the passenger flights and cargo follows passengers.

It's political now though. The Conservatives say if elected they'd stop expansion plans at Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick. Much to the disbelief of some in there own party and business leaders. One solution proposed by the Mayor Boris Johnson - an airport in the Thames Estuary linked by high speed rail.

His critics call it "Fantasy" Island with a price tag of around £40 billion. But it is affecting the aviation debate.

Crossrail

In the last year the east west rail link Crossrail has started. Already businesses are being compulsorily purchased for the single largest engineering project in Europe.

Optimists say the complex funding package will be delivered. Pessimists (and there are many) say that after 20 years in gestation this is one project that won't ever be finished. It will relieve congestion on the Tube and give huge economic benefits. But there will be disruption ahead.

As one supporter of the Tube upgrade said: "Remember all we're getting is another Northern Line for £16 billion."

Drilling is due to start in 2011. Many won't believe it will open until the drilling is finished. But there is an experienced and strong leadership team in place.

The one doubt is political will and although if broadly supportive if elected at the next election the Conservatives say its one of the big ticket items they'll review. The first trains are meant to run in 2017.

Streets & Walking

Your Decade
What are your key memories from the last 10 years in the capital?
Email us and even send photos to yourlondon@bbc.co.uk and we'll publish as many as we can.

A couple of things to watch out for here - important as there are still 5.7 million walking journeys a day.

What we will see across London now is a de-cluttering of public spaces.

Excessive signs and railings will go and the ethos of "shared space" will become more common - where cars and pedestrians are not as separated. Not everyone - for example the Royal National Institute of the Blind - think this is the right way to go.




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A night on the Northern Line
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