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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Why it's time to stop moaning about London Transport.....

Robert Elms' BBC London Debate

Last week, me,
Liz and her boyfriend were part of a studio audience for a BBC Radio London debate chaired by the fab Robert Elms and here is a late report of the night.

Firstly, let me say it was great fun and I would highly recommend you attending the next one (whenever it may be). The studio wasn't exactly full, but I'd say around 70 people were in the audience and there were enough "professional" studio audience people - ie people who seem to spend their lives going to these things - for the debate to be lively.

Robert Elms was fantastic, aided by a bottle of red wine and the most cheeky school boy smile I have ever seen on someone in their late forties (goodness, he may be even fifty now, which really makes me feel old), waxed lyrical on his views of London transport, before introducing each of the panellists. It's great to see that Londoner's favourite Camden boy, had lost none of his wit and wisdom. And great to see how a good radio presenter can just talk about anything and still sound funny, interesting and involving.

Obviously, the London Underground came in for a lot of stick. The dreaded Oystercard with its inconsitencies and inequalities for people who travel into London by National Rail was quite rightly derrided and the poor guy from the Transport Committee who was trying to defend Ken Livingstone on this one, failed miserably. "But, but, but - we've offered National Rail loads of money to try to incorporate the Oystercard through their stations in London. We've really tried" he said.

Overcrowded Train from Getty ImagesWell try harder, matey. Or offer them more money - you get loads from the congestion charge. Or why doesn't Ken say - "Look guys, I'm mayor or Sheriff in this town and what I say goes in London, so start accepting pre-pay Oystercards or I'll send my mate, Tony Blair round. Or failing that I'll set my newts on you". That should have National Rail quivering in their boots.

The audience were also pretty clear on the fact that although the congestion charge is supposed to encourage more people to travel by public transport and stop using their cars, that the Tube is basically stretched to full capacity right now.

You can't really fit more people on London Underground in the way it exists today. We have a mostly Victorian mode of transport which is now carrying around 3 million people every day and it simply can't cope. OK there's going to be longer trains on the Jubilee Line for the benefit of the London Olympics and the East London Line is going to be extended south - but big deal. What about the rest of the system? What is being done to increase the capacity of important lines that run through the heart of zone one. The Central Line? The Northern Line? Are we going to be sardines and squashed in the rush hour for the rest of our lives? Will we hear Ken Livingstone say "They are not squashed in, they squash themselves in" - like Sir John Elliot, Chairman of London Transport in the 1950s notoriously said (Quote from One Stop Short of Barking's timeline of the London Underground).


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