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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
Commuter belt blues

After months of rail chaos and grumbling fuel protests, is transport foremost in the minds of voters?

The residents of Enfield Southgate aren't just upwardly mobile in economic terms, they're quite literally constantly on the move.

Car lining Enfield's streets
Shiny happy motorists?
Fleets of shiny luxury cars line the constituency's leafy streets. Despite the length of many drives, little gravel is left unobscured by the fruits of German precision engineering.

So how is this automotive opulence financed? Ask the owners who crowd the area's train and Tube platforms for their daily slog to reach their swish jobs in central London.

Like affluent commuters in suburbs across the country, the public service with which Enfielders have the most frequent contact either passes under their car tyres or comes on wheels itself.

On the right track?

Defending his wafer-thin majority, Labour MP Stephen Twigg had thought transport would be a key issue. Indeed, promises on road and rail feature high up on his personal pledge card.

"As an issue, it seems transport has been the dog that hasn't bitten," says Twigg, canvassing voters outside Southgate's London Underground station.

Last year's fuel protests gave the government its only opinion poll shock of this parliament. Surely a Labour MP fighting in a once safe Tory seat would be despairing of the Treasury's stand on petrol duty?

Dipkal Shah
Dipkal Shah: "Happy" to pay fuel tax
"This is a very environmentally aware area. I had more people coming up to me during the fuel protests asking us not to give in, than those who wanted a cut in petrol."

Often described by journalists as an "on message" Blairite, one might have reasonably expected Mr Twigg to say something like that. It wouldn't wash on the garage forecourt though, would it?

As a travelling salesman, constituent Dipka Shah visits the pumps more than most. "I don't mind paying high fuel tax if it's going to help the environment and my children," he says.

Taxing problem

"London's transport has to be sorted out, to get it up to the standard of New York, Tokyo or Paris. If it was more efficient it might take casual drivers off the roads and end the school run."

Both Mr Twigg, a non-driver, and his Tory opponent John Flack have stressed their determination to see an improved service on the Piccadilly Line - the Tube line which cuts through Enfield's heart.

Tube delay sign
Trouble down Tube
With many constituents spending hours every day in the cramped confines of grubby, noisy Tube carriages, subjected to frequent delays and sporadic strikes, the state of the Underground was assumed to be a vote swinger.

The Economist even went as far as to suggest that any government able to effect even a modest reversal of the system's fortunes would win the hearts of Londoners and secure marginal seats such as Enfield Southgate.

Messers Twigg and Flack were lucky to escape the attentions of a party dedicated to this single issue and the handful of valuable votes it could have won (particularly if threatened Tube strikes had gone ahead this week).

Single issue

The Get London Moving Party was predicted to field a candidate in Enfield Southgate, a move which would have opened up the too-tight-to-call race even more.

However, for local people the area's more obvious transport issue lays above ground. The stretch of the notorious North Circular Road which crosses their patch narrows into a choked bottleneck.

North Circular Road
Gridlock in the suburbs
Whereas most roads in the district carry vehicles little heavier than a 4x4 with a child seat, the North Circular endures a thundering stream of HGVs, white vans and company cars.

Widening this mile or so of fume laden duel carriageway has long been debated and Mr Twigg has expressed his determination to see the project completed - Labour's 1997 pledge to avoid road building not withstanding.

"I think it's an exceptional situation. It's not a new road, it's widening an old road and I think there's an environmental case for it because of the pollution."

The decades of uncertainty have given the homes and businesses on either side of the road a forlorn air.

Vicious circle

It's abandoned cars, not polished saloons, which catch the eye here. Many homes have been left to vandals, others boarded up to escape the attentions of the arsonists and squatters.

But more hardy souls, such as newsagent Wayne Shaw, have high hopes for the community.

"They've been talking about this for 30 years and it'll probably take another 30 years," he says.

North Circular Road
Bricked up, but not knocked down (yet)
Mr Shaw says the Ritz Parade where his shop sits is owned by Transport for London, the mayor's transport office. Far from readying the buildings for the bulldozers, the flats and shops have been recently renovated, he says.

"I wouldn't imagine they'd spend all that money if they thought they'd have to pull them down. I know people have said they'd like the road widened, but do they think it's worth the upheaval?"

So it does indeed seem the constituents of Enfield Southgate are adamant they won't bite on transport as an election issue.

The place The people The Commuter blues The sights
1. The place 2. The people
3. The sights 4. The Commuter blues

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