Angie Bray replies to Bassam Mahfouz's 'slap in the face' letter
In his open letter to ActonW3 , Bassam Mahfouz asks me to respond to his attack on Mayor of London, Boris Johnson’s recent announcement on fare increases. I am grateful for the opportunity to do just that.
There is never a good time to announce a rise in the cost of using public transport. During a recession, such as the one we are currently undergoing, obviously the impact will be greater. But there are a number of serious reasons as to why I believe that the Mayor has been forced to do this. First, the recession itself is causing financial problems for Transport for London (TfL), simply because fewer passengers are travelling meaning there is less fare revenue coming in with TfL putting the loss on London Underground at £900 million. This is an unavoidable consequence of the downturn. Secondly, Mayor Johnson inherited a black hole in TfL's finances of some £1.9 billion over the next three years, bequeathed to London by the outgoing Mayor Livingstone (who was actually caught out by London TravelWatch announcing a freeze in fares during the 2008 Mayoral election while leaked TfL documents confirmed planned increases!).
But one of the other key reasons for TfL's present financial difficulties, was the collapse of part of the Private Public Partnership (PPP) programme forced on London Underground by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. The failure of Metronet, for example, left TfL to pick up the pieces at a cost of over half a billion pounds.
However, at least the Oyster card system should minimise the rises for most London travellers. Also 40 percent of bus passengers travel free or at a concessionary rate. It should be remembered that the Mayor has actually increased the number of Londoners who pay half price fares on the buses by well over 100,000.
Nobody enjoys increasing travel costs but times are difficult financially. City Hall, under Boris Johnson, is making significant savings where possible including at TfL, whose business plan has found £5 billion in savings over 9 years. Backroom staff are being cut, expensive consultants are being dropped and contracts are being renegotiated to cut costs.
Everything possible is being done to minimise the impact on travellers but, in the end, given the circumstances, how would Mr. Mahfouz propose to deal with the financial problem, or is he suggesting that it should simply be ignored?"
Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Ealing Central and Acton
January 8, 2010