Running the roads is an enormously expensive business. TfL’s Surface Transport division’s expenditure is forecast at £2.6bn this year.
Let’s put this in perspective for a second – this is twice the figure lost by rogue trader Kweku Aduboli, which last week plunged global investment bank UBS into a quarterly net loss.
While much of the press bemoaned last week’s fares rises in articles which might as well have been written by Ken Livingstone’s campaign team, Dave Hill deftly pointed out the actual issue: Transport for London needs cash.
Hill argues that this money should instead come from higher road pricing for car users – which there is plenty of evidence for. But let’s take a step back.
Where does all the money go?
Transport for London give the public some idea what happens to this money through Finance and Policy Committee meetings.
But how useful is this? Thursday’s meeting, for example, revealed that TfL had revised the estimated final cost of the Cycle Superhighways down from £145m to £105m.
Why isn’t this news? Basically: because no one really knows what it means.
Can Transport for London really have just reduced the budget by £40m without bothering to consult beforehand, or tell anyone afterwards? It looks like it – but astonishingly for a public body, they don’t have to say.
Open up TfL
Here’s the rub. Does the Mayor really have to choose between two politically horrible options to come up with capital, raising fares or charging car users – where the decision of a leader largely elected by the outer boroughs is preordained?
That depends if the roads really require the level of government subsidy that they currently receive.
Climate Rush, an organisation who protest primarily about climate change, are on Thursday holding a protest at Blackfriars where their first demand is “an open and democratic Transport for London”.
They cite when TfL ignored the London Assembly’s unanimous vote about Blackfriars Bridge as their watershed moment – but there are plenty more.
Why has Transport for London this month suddenly said it has to splash out an unbudgeted £60 million at Hammersmith Flyover to “address recently identified structural defects”?
Might such maintenance be required because of the high volumes of wear caused by motor traffic? Is it right that £60m of public funds is being used to restore the very conditions that doom us to perpetually pouring more money into a congested, destructive streetscape?
Why does London keep taking to the streets?
Londoners are not happy with the political choices that are being made on our streets – choices being made with our money.
Transport for London are not accountable to the public, nor to our elected representatives, the London Assembly. Nor our MPs, nor our local councillors, nor anyone else we ever get to vote for – with one exception.
TfL are only accountable to the Mayor – and so, for those concerned with transport, protests sizable enough to make Boris take notice are the only form of political engagement left.