Sadiq Khan: Government must let TfL run the railways
This op-ed was originally published by the Evening Standard on 7 December 2016.
Rail passengers across south London and the wider commuter belt are understandably furious after the Government broke its promise to make suburban rail services more frequent, reliable and affordable by giving control of commuter lines to Transport for London. I am on their side.
TfL has proved beyond any doubt that when it is given control of suburban rail lines passengers get a more frequent service, increased capacity, fewer delays and cancellations, more staff at stations and more affordable fares. Just look at the London Overground — which went from being one of the worst services in the country to one of the best. TfL proved it again when it took control of running services from Liverpool Street to Shenfield.
Earlier this year the Government promised to give control of suburban rail lines, including those operated by Southeastern, Southern and South West Trains, to TfL in a joint agreement signed by the Department for Transport and the Mayor of London, who at the time was Boris Johnson. Widely hailed, it looked like a major step forward for commuters, fed-up after years of unacceptably poor services.
The Government broke that promise yesterday. Instead, it put forward a proposal that will deliver none of the necessary benefits for passengers. Under new, weaker proposals, commuters will still face daily cancellations and delays, there will still be no improvement to services, no new staff at stations and fares will continue to rise every year — including by 2.3 per cent this January (with some fares going up by up to five per cent) — in stark contrast to my freeze of all TfL fares.
I want to be clear that this is not about party politics — it’s much bigger than that. Rail devolution is supported by MPs, councils and London Assembly members from every political party. It is also supported by Conservative councils outside London such as those in Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire — who know that their residents will get a better, more reliable and more affordable service under TfL.
Some of the strongest criticism of the Government’s U-turn came from Bob Neill, the Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, whose understandable frustration on behalf of his constituents was clear for all to see when he spoke in the House of Commons. His anger was shared by MPs from across London, including Matthew Pennycook, Heidi Alexander, Karen Buck and Andy Slaughter.
Meaningful rail devolution is strongly supported by businesses and industry leaders both inside and outside London — including London First and the London Chamber of Commerce. They know that improving rail services would bring huge economic benefits as well as delivering improvements for passengers. A better and more regular suburban rail network would unlock new growth, jobs and opportunities across south London and the commuter belt.
It would also allow us to build the new genuinely affordable homes that Londoners desperately need. There is considerable capacity to build new homes in south London — but only if the shortage of transport capacity and chronic reliability problems can be addressed. We have identified the potential for 150,000 new homes in areas served by suburban rail lines, including 80,000 within one kilometre of a station that would be served under our plans for rail devolution. That is a lot of new homes at a time of urgent need.
One clear benefit of TfL running commuter rail lines has been perfectly demonstrated by the strikes on Southern services this week and in recent months. Commuters on Southern trains have had months of abysmal services, with delays and cancellations at record levels. The Government has done absolutely nothing to help. Contrast this with TfL, which this week successfully negotiated to stop a proposed strike on two Tube lines. This was TfL showing once again that it has the expertise and professionalism to deliver a much better service for commuters.
Contrary to claims made by the Government yesterday, our detailed proposals spell out exactly how TfL would increase the capacity, frequency and reliability of rail services. The plans show it would lead to greater reliability, all-day staffing at stations, integrated fares, Oyster card access at all stations and reduced fare evasion. TfL would provide extra train services, deep cleaning and enhancements at stations, as well as more and improved ticket machines.
TfL introduced almost exactly the same measures when it took control of West Anglia services in May 2015 — the improvements led to a 15 per cent reduction in delays, a 43 per cent increase in satisfaction with staff availability, a 32 per cent increase in satisfaction with station cleanliness, an 86 per cent reduction in fare evasion and a three per cent increase in overall customer satisfaction. Who would argue against that?
If I’m honest, I simply do not understand why the Government is now so vehemently opposed to improving suburban rail services in London. I sincerely hope it is not because it is reluctant to give control of these lines to a Labour Mayor. Commuters’ lives are far, far more important than party politics and I have proven time and time again that I’m a Mayor who stands up for all Londoners.
It is not too late for the Government to change its mind — but ministers need to act fast. I will do all I can, working with politicians from all parties, business leaders and commuters to persuade Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to do the right thing. And if you are a commuter suffering from dreadful services you can help too. During your commute home tonight write to the Transport Secretary and urge him to do the right thing. Together, we can fight for passengers to get the improvements to services they so deserve.