Friday, 30 July 2010

The Economics of Cycle Hire

Boris is about to launch his signature (and very expensive) cycle hire scheme. To assess what benefits this might produce I have asked TfL for some help with additional information. They seem to be taking longer than would normally be expected. I can't help but speculate why they are taking quite so long.

Its been a big few weeks for Boris's cycle policy. His trial cycle superhighways are now live (to mixed reviews) and on July 30th the Cycle Hire scheme goes live. If you've seen my previous posts you'll see I am sceptical that the large amount of cash being spent on the scheme represents the best value for money. Indeed on the surface I can't see any evidence that this is the case and it seems to me Cycle Hire is neat way for Boris to look like he is helping cycling whilst not enraging his core constituency of private motorists.

One way to establish the viability of the scheme would be to look at the business case for the project. This should clearly articulate the benefits, weigh them against the costs and determine whether the project is indeed worthwhile. It might (if you have the data) also help you compare it against other options that might be better (or worse) value for money. So I asked TfL for it and also any research that they held that looked at whether Cycle Hire was likely to encourage a greater degree of modal shift compared to other possible options like cycle lanes and other priority measure. Naively I thought this was a simple request. After all you either have the business case or you don't surely? As for the other stuff it seems a fairly standard piece of research that you would have to hand to support the decision process in progressing Cycle Hire versus other measures.

I was quite surprised therefore that the request was still outstanding after 28 days and, after some prodding, TfL suggested they needed a further 10 working days to produce even a partial response. Now I am sure that there is a perfectly innocent explanation for the delay (although I wasn't provided with one) but it does seem odd that its taking quite such a while. Perhaps they lost my intial request - who knows?

On a completely separate note I am sure Boris will be in full ribbon cutting mode on the 30th - from the two plus years he's been in office its clearly what he likes doing best. Its a shame therefore that before that we're not able to assess whether this really is the best use of £100M plus of taxpayers money.
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Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Hidden Danger in Ending PPP on the Tube

The acquisition of Tube Lines by Transport for London effectively ended the PPP experiment on the Tube. There are potentially many advantages to the end of the deal, but has it left the Tube more exposed now to cutbacks on desperately needed upgrades.

PPP is dead. That's the headline from TfL's purchase of Tube Lines completed at the end of last month. PPP's had a pretty ill-starred existence and many people will be happy to see the back of it. In many ways its demise has been a long time coming. Metronet, the biggest of the PPP contractors, managed to survive over 4 years before falling into administration. The most visible evidence of their failure was in their station upgrade programme that was significantly behind schedule and even further over budget. They never even got to many of the big ticket items they were charged with upgrading, like the re-signalling of the sub-surface lines and they left the Victoria line half done.

Tube Lines looked to be making a better go of it until recently. Station upgrades were being completed on time and within budget and the Jubilee Line upgrade was broadly on track. But then things started going wrong. Quality issues on the new signalling system for the Jubilee line pushed the date out past the point required in the PPP contract, opening up Tube Lines to paying significant liquidated damages. The TfL board minutes show a project going from bad, to worse, to pretty disastrous. At the same time the problems on the Jubilee line were pushing out upgrade work on the Northern line. This combined with a poor outcome from the PPP Arbiter's Periodic Review meant the end wasn't entirely unexpected. TfL's offer to buy the company was probably a blessed relief in some respects for Tube Lines shareholders.

So is the removal of PPP wholly good news? Well there plenty of it in there. TfL thinks its made significant reductions in back office costs as a result of combining Metronet into London Underground. Alone this has saved £570M up to 2017/18. They also have greater flexibility in how they spend and when they do it. No doubt there are similar savings to be made when Tube Lines are

Amongst the good news there's a danger though I think. Under PPP there was a legal and contractual commitment on the part of Tube Lines to complete the work to upgrade the tube, and a corresponding requirement on Government to pay for it. That's gone now. Now was that anyway a cast iron guarantee, well no. A change in the law (with maybe a compensation payment) and anything can happen. But at the very least there was a framework in place to ensure the work happened. Now the only thing standing between the Tube and cuts at the behest of the Conservative-led coalition is ... Boris Johnson. Still sitting comfortably?

The Tube is the prime target for cost-cutting as Crossrail is mostly funded from other sources, as London Reconnections shows here there is little scope to cut the Central Government contribution much of which has already been spent.

On the whole most people will be glad to see the back of PPP. As a Labour supporter its difficult to see it as one of our finest moments. But there could be some pain in store as well as a result of its passing. More reason than ever to have someone in City Hall that can advocate the case for London and why doing nothing on the Tube is not an option.
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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Time's running out, Oona

Ken Livingstone needed a strong challenger with a coherent vision in the race for Labour Mayoral nomination. Whilst Oona King has many positive qualities she's so far failed to articulate a clear vision for London and time's running out fast. If she's to stand a chance at getting the nomination (or my vote for that matter) she needs to quickly fill in the significant gaps in her policy positions and steer clear of recent personalised attacks.

Unfortunately I am going to miss the Labour Mayoral hustings in Brent at the end of this month due to a prior committment. That's a pity as I had been looking forward to seeing more of Oona King and what she might deliver for London if elected. I am far from certain that Ken is necessarily the best choice for Labour, indeed I would have been pleased to see Alan Johnson join the race. Sadly that wasn't to be. So, given I might now not see either her or Ken in the flesh I am going to have to make my mind up on who to vote from other sources. The appearance of both candidates on the Politics Show this week was one such opportunity and I'm not sure some of the content reflected that well on Oona.

The last Mayoral election was, of course, marked by a highly partisan campaign by the Evening Standard against Ken Livingstone. The central allegation that Ken had indulged in cronyism now looks ever more ironic given who was in charge of the Evening Standard at the time and subsequent events. Its unfortunate then that Oona chose one of the few opportunities members like me may have to get a sense of her approach to re-heat those Standard allegations one more time by banging on about Ken's supposed cronyism. If that was the end of you could possibly pass it off as an aberration but from @MayorWatch in the world of Twitter I understand she also circulated a briefing note at MQT containing other elements of the Standard campaign.

What's surprising is that I think this is highly unlikely to help her cause in any case. You would have to have been living under a rock for the past 3 years not to know the ins and outs of the Lee Japser story. Anybody who is tending towards supporting Ken this time round will certainly have taken that into account by now. In my view the only outcome from the strategy will be the convince wavering voters outside of the party that Labour is divided, at war with itself in London and unworthy of support.

A more profitable approach would be to concentrate on new policy ideas. These have left me underwhelmed to say the least. On housing I can't see any great difference between her and Ken. She is for example suggesting that we revert back to the standard that new developments must contain 50% affordable housing, something he first implemented. And whilst nobody would disagree that knife crime is an extremely serious problem in London, the challenge for the Mayor is that they have control over relatively few of the levers that might exert a significant influence on it. There is a real danger of over promising and then failing to deliver, something Boris is struggling with right now.

By contrast the Mayor has extensive powers over both transport and planning and I can see precious little that might give an insight into what she would do in these areas. Transport policy in particular affects the lives of most Londoners every day and is an area where, more than most, the current administration's lack of a coherent approach is most evident. I don't believe any candidate will deserve to be elected without a vision for how Londoners will get about the city now and into the next decade.

Finally, I like 'new' and 'fresh' as much as the next person but nothing in politics has intrinsic value simply because its 'new'. The 'new' thing has to be in some way demonstrably better than the 'old' thing its replacing. So simply talking about how 'new' you are won't cut it. And by the way neither will:

@Oona_King: Popped into Ministry of Sound this afternoon for a quick meeting. If you want a raver vote Labour!

because actually I don't want a raver as Mayor of London. I'd quite like some who can convince me they can manage a multi-billion pound organisation and put London back in the place it deserves to be, as the greatest city on the world. There still time to do that but don't wait, its running out fast
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