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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate vows ‘no more bus cuts’ and seeks transport stability for London

The Liberal Democrats’ mayoral candidate Rob Blackie has unveiled his transport strategy for the capital, including a promise of “no more bus cuts”

The Liberal Democrats’ mayoral candidate Rob Blackie has unveiled his transport strategy for the capital, including a promise of “no more bus cuts”.

Mr Blackie said he would look to bring “stability” to Transport for London (TfL)’s finances by seeking a long-term funding deal with the Government.

Once that had been achieved, he said he would look to make progress on major infrastructure projects, such as the Bakerloo line extension to Lewisham, as well as potentially building new tram lines and expanding TfL’s Santander Cycles scheme.

Tube fares would typically rise with inflation if he became mayor, Mr Blackie said, as he argued Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to freeze pay-as-you-go fares over the coming year was a “pre-election gimmick”.

Mr Khan’s team said the election is a “two-horse race” between him and Tory candidate Susan Hall, and that the mayor is “making transport more affordable for millions of Londoners”.

Mr Blackie said: “The Liberal Democrat plan to fix London’s transport system will do three things. Firstly – no more bus cuts. Sadiq Khan has cut 22 million miles of buses from London while he’s been mayor.

“Secondly, we’ll maintain the Tube properly. As people know on the Central line every day, it’s incredibly frustrating when the Tube breaks down, and you need to maintain it properly…

“Thirdly, we’ll do a long-term funding deal, based on stability, with the national Government. That will allow us to underwrite building new Tube and train lines in the medium term, and it will also allow us to do a long-term deal with the unions so that we avoid these strikes which commuters find so infuriating.”

The candidate admitted however that there were still a small number of circumstances where cuts or alterations to bus services could be justified.

“If we pedestrianise Oxford Street for instance, and we were not putting buses down there, obviously that wouldn’t make sense – but for the vast majority of situations, people’s bus services will be protected, so that they can be confident they can get to school, to work and get out on an evening.”

He said Mr Khan’s decision to freeze pay-as-you-go Tube fares, as well as trialling off-peak fares on Fridays, had hampered the mayor’s ability to seek a long-term funding deal with the Government.

“Sadiq Khan keeps on giving away money after he gets it from national Government, so understandably, national Government feels it’s not worth doing a proper deal with him.”

He added: “A lot of people don’t save money from what Sadiq Khan is doing with his election gimmick. If you have a travelcard you don’t [benefit from it], if you pay by contactless and get the daily cap, you’re not being helped by that.”

The cost of travelcards is set in negotiation with the train companies – meaning the mayor does not have the unilateral power to freeze those rates. The cost of the caps is pegged to travelcards.

Mr Blackie said: “I would expect that we would try and keep fares going up with inflation over time, to keep them appropriate for Londoners.”

Due to their importance for lower-income Londoners however, he pledged to keep bus fares frozen in his first year in office. He would then “see what’s sustainable and what the cost of the bus system is, but we’ll do our best to keep those fares down”.

Asked about new innovations for the capital’s transport network, he said: “I think it would be great if we could get more trams in London.

“They can be an affordable way to provide better public transport, particularly to outer London. People in outer London have much less good public transport than in inner London.”

Responding to Mr Blackie’s criticisms, a spokesman for Mr Khan said: “The election on 2 May is going to be a close two-horse race, with the Tories changing the voting system making it easier for them to win. That’s why Sadiq is asking Greens and Lib Dems to lend him their vote.

“Sadiq is proud to be freezing TfL fares again this year, the fifth time he has frozen fares since becoming mayor. Sadiq’s TfL fares freeze is putting money back in people’s pockets, and making transport more affordable for millions of Londoners. Around 80 per cent of Tube journeys and 74 per cent of bus journeys are now made using pay as you go, meaning that the vast majority of Londoners will benefit from Sadiq’s TfL fares freeze.

“Sadiq’s TfL fares freeze is alongside his other work making fares more affordable for Londoners, such as trialling off-peak fares all day on Fridays, and the huge success of the Hopper bus fares.

“The Superloop is now transforming travel in outer London, adding over four million extra bus kilometres to the network alone. It will continue to offer more options for bus users all across outer London.”

The London mayoral election will take place on the same date as elections to the London Assembly – for which Mr Blackie is also a candidate.

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