Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Boris Johnson’s Transport Cuts Conundrum

Photo by Tyla’75

The mayor’s announcement yesterday that he plans to improve London’s transport system at the same time as imposing cuts of £7.6bn has had many of us scratching our heads.

The four-year programme has been described by London’s transport commissioner, Peter Hendy as ‘the busiest and most exciting in the history of London’s transport network’, but what does it include?
  • An upgrade to the Jubilee line to give a 33% increase in capacity across the line
  • A 21% increase in capacity on the Victoria line, plus new trains and a 19% improvement in times
  • A Northern line upgrade to give a 20% increase in capacity and an 18% reduction in travel times
  • New trains on the Circle, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan and District lines
  • Progress on Crossrail – we kind of thought this would be a given, but apparently refers to completion of tunnelling and station construction
  • 4000 road traffic signals changed to reduce delays
  • Lane rental scheme for utility companies to cut down on unnecessary roadworks
  • Extension to the east of the city of the cycle hire scheme towards the Olympic Park
  • Cable car crossing between North Greenwich and the Royal Docks
  • Completion of all 12 cycle superhighways
  • Introduction of the new Boris bus.
  • Completion of the London Overground network from Surrey Quays to Clapham Junction – London’s first orbital railway
  • Introducing the Source London electric vehicle charging network
Now, some of these are pretty familiar and we’ve looked at them in more detail over the last year or so. diamond geezer also points out that a couple of the trumpeted announcements are in fact old news while Mayorwatch casts doubts on the hybrid bus promises. The news also provoked standard-issue alarm amongst the unions – we’re staring to wonder if Bob Crow has a string on his back which when pulled provides a standard message of doom: ‘These new cuts will drag the underground even deeper into the spiral of decline with breakdowns, failures and disruption a daily fact of life. We can expect a threat to hundreds more jobs while maintenance takes another hit, turning the underground into a death trap and a criminals paradise.’ So presumably we can look forward to some more strikes.

Unsurprisingly, TfL’s press release was considerably more upbeat, concentrating on the ‘huge investment programme’ while that pesky sentence ‘£7.6bn cuts’ was rebranded as a ‘savings and efficiency programme’. You can read their business plan here. Improving services by reducing inefficiencies is obviously a good thing, but at what cost to the London commuter? We can’t help thinking that transport is already fairly tightly squeezed so where do TfL expect the savings to come from?

Well, ticket office staffing changes is one area, though we haven’t forgotten what happened the last time and we can almost hear the unions rolling up their sleeves to get stuck in. IT systems, renegotiation of contracts and relocation of staff to cheaper locations are all on the list, along with reductions in bus subsidy costs.

All in all, it’s a tall order but can it be delievered?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

20mph Speed Limit Considered For Square Mile

Photo by Matt from London.

The City of London could reduce speed limits in some areas in a bid to bring down the number of cyclist casualties.

Although a 2010 London Road Safety Report actually shows that the number of collisions involving cyclists has fallen, TfL still consider that there’s further work to be done to improve things for our friends on two wheels while a 2008 report and the Cyclists in the City blog ponders lower limits on inner London river crossings, with the exception of Tower Bridge where there’s already a 20mph limit in place.

TfL roads such as Bishopsgate, Farringdon and Lower Thames Street are ideal candidates for the lowered limit, according to London Assembly member John Biggs, though having seen the state of the road surface on Bishopsgate towards Shoreditch, we think that a few yards of freshly-applied tarmac might be in order first.

Cycling in the City has seen a dramatic rise in popularity since the launch of the Cycle Hire Scheme though it can still be a precarious way to travel. There’s not much dispute that reducing speed can reduce the severity of a collision, but more often than not it’s carelessness or lack of observation which leads to road collisions so we’re not convinced that touting a 20mph speed limit as the potential saviour of London’s cyclists is necessarily the only way forward.

Potholes, to give one example, may be irritating and lead to a bent wheel for motorists but an accident in the making for a cyclist though at least there’s £100m in the pot to repair the holes. It also has to be said that some cyclists don’t do themselves any favours with little or no lights and dark clothing at night and that old gripe of motorists: ignoring the rules of the road. Keeping the cycle lane for Blackfriars Bridge would be a good start too.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Lalala We’re Not Listening, Say Government

The government have announced the less-than-surprising news that Saturday’s anti-cuts march will not lead to a change in economic strategy.

Over 250,000 people gathered in central London yesterday to express their dismay at government spending cuts while some seized the opportunity to engage in a spot of casual vandalism, providing police with a perfect excuse to brush up on their kettling skills. Branches of HSBC, RBS and Santander were attacked, demonstrating once again that the majority of people who complain about banks can’t tell the difference between retail banking and investment banking. Protesters also staged a sit-in at Fortnum & Mason so at least they were well-fed for the duration but their choice of venue betrays the middle-class element in the masses – standard issue protesters would probably have had a sit-in in Asda instead.

The Guardian has published a helpful list of cuts coming to an area near you, but the usual suspects of education and welfare will also suffer along with the NHS which apparently has an impending ‘restructuring’ heading its way – the very definition of a Sisyphean task, surely.

The TUC’s Brendan Barber said somewhat optimistically; ‘When the people speak, governments have to listen.’ Vince Cable has said agreeably that they will listen to the unions though one is rather left with the impression of a favour granted as opposed to Brendan Barber’s perception that listening to the people is an obligation on the part of the government.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Squatters Take Over Gaddafi Mansion

Photo by artofthestate

The London home of Colonel Gaddafi’s son has got new occupants; a group of squatters calling themselves Topple The Tyrants.

The £11m Hampstead mansion owned by Seif al-Islam Gaddafi was taken over on Wednesday morning by the group, who say they plan to stay ‘until such time as we are sure that [the property] can be returned to the Libyan people,’ adding, ‘We do not trust the British government to properly seize the Libyan government’s corrupt and stolen assets so we have decided to take matters into our own hands.’ The Gaddafi family’s assets have been frozen following worldwide condemnation of security forces shooting protesters and it was reported today that BBC journalists had been detained and tortured.

The leader of Topple The Tyrants, who calls himself Montgomery Jones, also provided some helpful information about the interior decor, saying that the house is ‘incredibly plush’ and has a swimming pool, cinema room and sauna. The house was recently up for sale but given that the British government has seized around £20bn of Gaddafi’s assets including the Hampstead house, we wonder what will happen next. The police have declined to become involved, saying that the occupation is a civil matter. Being well-known doesn’t necessarily defend one from squatters, as Guy Ritchie also found out recently.

The troubled Libyan leader has also provided an unexpected rival to Charlie Sheen for delusional one-liners.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Public Warn Police ‘We Will Kettle’

The general public have warned that they will kettle police if they go ahead with protests over budget cuts.

Just weeks after battering students and kettling small children at demonstrations against tuition fee rises, the police claim they are being bullied by the government and want to go on strike. Students and G20 protesters are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to contain police officers in a confined space while denying them access to toilets, food and water.

‘We could say it’s all about the safety of the police protesters but we actually can’t wait to get them in a kettle for seven hours then video them pissing in each other’s shoes and post it on YouTube,’ said a spokesperson from the pressure group Action for the Middle Classes.

The police spokesperson was unavailable for comment after receiving his redundancy letter.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Alternative Bank Holiday Plans Revealed

Photo by AndyKirby79

The government have outlined plans to do some bank holiday shuffling by moving one of the May bank holidays or introducing a new one in October.

Thanks to Wills ‘n Kate obligingly providing us with an extra day off this year along with giving Londoners the dilemma of whether to abandon the capital for the duration or fling themselves wholeheartedly into royal wedding fever, the subject of the country’s stingy allowance of bank holidays is exercising the government. The surfeit of long weekends around Easter and May compared with those long months between September and Christmas has always been rather vexing and ministers are grabbing the golden opportunity presented by the Olympics to extend the tourist season even if they can’t guarantee the weather.

We love bank holidays at Londonist and are positively fizzing with excitement at the prospect of an extra one to get out and see stuff that we’re too tired or too busy to see on a normal day. We’ll also be providing you with a handy guide (like this one) of things to do in the city on bank holiday weekends, assuming that the RMT doesn’t go on strike, that is.

Sadly, proposals for double summertime have been vetoed as not being beneficial enough for tourism but Diamond Geezer plans to start a campaign based on his excellent and informative explanation of why current summertime arrangements are just plain wrong.

Suggestions around naming include Trafalgar Day and the curiously grating National Day and UK Day. What would you call our alternative bank holiday?

Londoners ‘Least Haunted’ According To Ghost Map

Photo by AndyKirby79

Are you one of the 20 people in London who have experienced a ghost? According to a survey and handy ghost map by paranormal researcher (we would love a job title like that) Professor Richard Wiseman, 25% of people in the UK claim to have seen something go bump in the night.

London and the south east top the list of regions least spooked by ghosts, though last Halloween, Fortean London discovered demons in the guise of Elvis, skeletal porters being seduced by spectors and cats being moved by invisible hands in their tour of London ghosts.

Professor Wiseman says the figure, which is apparently the highest on record since the 50s, could be due to TV programmes such as Most Haunted which in turn suggests that the 25% is a measure of the UK’s gullibility rather than their ghostly experiences.

Have you seen a ghost? Tell us about it in the comments.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Idle Drivers Face Fines

Photo by D I C K S D A I L Y

In his latest attempt to tackle London’s air pollution, Boris Johnson plans to fine drivers who leave their engines running while parked.

The mayor has been under pressure from green groups as well as Europe’s environment commissioner to clean up the city after it was announced that over 4000 people die each year in the capital as a result of air pollution. Back in January, the mayor said he wanted to make the whole of London a no-idle zone and although police have powers to issue penalty charge notices to drivers leaving their engines running, though in practice it’s hard to imagine a less easily enforceable offence, especially as he also plans to cut police numbers.

There’s also the question of what constitutes an unreasonable length of time to leave an engine idling – the Green Party suggest three minutes but with taxi and delivery drivers in particular coming in for criticism that does seem a tad unrealistic. Buses are also on the hit list, though presumably those run by TfL would be exempt unless they plan to start fining themselves.

The mayor’s air quality strategy was criticised last year as being ‘not fit for purpose’ with measures such as making all black cabs electric failing to stand up to close inspection, not to mention a legal challenge over the abolition of the congestion charge western extension.