Underground (Supplementary) [1]

Session date: 
April 4, 2001
Question By: 
John Biggs
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


What I find interesting in your reply is that it is light on the facts. As I understand it - this can be substantiated - the facts are that the maintenance costs on the London Underground are lower, although the service has similar levels of availability to that in New York; that the failure rates of the stock in New York are slightly higher than in London; that the percentage of trains running on time in London is on average about 94% - which I agree is unacceptable, but in New York it is about 92%; that the productivity of labour on the New York subway is considerably lower than in London - obviously there are issues about wage rates there, although that is not at present such an issue with our Underground system as it is with the buses; and that the operating costs of the Underground are about 25% lower than in New York. Yet, at the end of this, the number of fatalities caused by accidents in London is roughly half the number in New York.

You talk of this golden age, but when we visited New York recently, we were told that, before the modernisation, about 16,000 people slept on the subway each night, and now it is down to 900; so there is a relative improvement there. But I put it to you that the golden age you talk about is not quite as glorious as you suggest, and that the apocalyptic state of the Tube is not quite as apocalyptic as you suggest.

You said in the Telegraph recently that the Underground is "disgusting". I put it to you that Londoners do not find their Underground service disgusting, Ken.

Supplementary To: 


Answer for Underground (Supplementary) [1]

Answer for Underground (Supplementary) [1]

Answered By: 
The Mayor

The New York and London underground systems are quite different, in structure and in the problems they face. Nobody denies, whether you are talking to a member of the public in New York or to Mayor Giuliani, who was a Republican successor to the Democratic regime that initiated these changes, that a system which was abysmally bad was dramatically turned around.

The tragedy here is that we had a system which was working very well indeed when it was taken over by central Government in 1984. There were no dramatic deteriorations until we hit the period of John Major's Government, when suddenly cuts were made in investment in maintenance. Those cuts accentuated under the present Government. We now have a problem, and if it is not tackled, I think we will see serious problems.

It is not useful to compare the statistics for London Underground and the New York subway, and that is why they are not published. The figures that were leaked by Millbank's spin doctors were an attempt to smear Bob Kiley. I thought how classic it was that, in a difficult and delicate set of negotiations, the first response of the Labour machine is to smear somebody that everyone agrees is the foremost transport operator in the world.

The figures that were released were specifically given on the understanding that they would not be published, because they are not a useful comparison. So, in passing them over to the Government spin machine, London Underground ratted on that undertaking as an international underground operator; given the present management of the Underground, that does not surprise me, either.

Forget the statistics. Stop Londoners and ask them, "Is this system better now than when the shadow running of PPP was introduced?" Everyone will tell you that they feel that the system is worse than it has ever been. London Underground's own statistics confirm that. Every month, in terms of reliability and performance, the statistics are worse than the month before. They are now literally the worst since any statistics have been collected and collated. Therefore, it seems to me that the obvious lesson is that the breaking up of the Underground into four operating parts - three of them available for partial privatisation - has been a disaster. You can see it in the statistics, and you can see it as Londoners struggle to get to and from work.