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Thursday, December 16, 2010

If TfL chief Peter Hendy had a magic wand

Yesterday I was lucky enough to have a chat with TfL's Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy. Due to partial incompetence on my part & problems on the District Line, I was late. Fortunately
London Reconnections and IanVisits were on time, so hopefully, they'll have more on Hendy's opinion on what the Comprehensive Spending Review will mean for London's Transport. When I arrived the discussion had moved on to Hendy's thoughts of how most of the world's transport systems were actually surprised London had a long term strategy for transport & that it was (finally) being carried out.

Peter Hendy TfL Commissioner by Annie Mole

Hendy struck me as a person who was extremely keen to get on with the upgrades needed & speed them up. He's well aware of the perception of bad communication of improvements and the seemingly endless engineering work. He's clearly not a fan of those posters which show cartoons of men carrying out work on the London Underground.

Transforming your Tube by Richard Parmiter
Transforming your Tube by Richard Parmiter

In the future we'll see less of these and actual photos of broken rails, points, signalling and the like, in an attempt to show us what work is physically being done & how long it takes. We got the impression there will be fewer block closures on the Tube than TfL's new strategy just announced (first of which District & Circle Lines between High Street Ken & Edgware Road). Mainly because there's actually few parts of the Tube which you can close down for weeks at a time without causing complete chaos and offering reasonable travel alternatives.

Hendy's obviously a mine of transport information having worked for London Transport since 1975. I must admit my brain partially switches off when people talk about buses, but Hendy's attention to the new buses went right down to making sure it was easy to clean sick (& other nasty stuff) off them! Probably something a lot of Transport commissioners wouldn't talk about.

We also learnt that before stations on the former North London Link were closed overnight, a whole colony of down and outs lived at Kensal Rise station.

Even though it's December, inevitably you can't talk about the Tube without talking about air conditioning. Ian asked how much of the plans to cool the London Underground were at risk with the funding cuts. Hendy wasn't sure, but said the challenge was more about trying to create a system that generated less heat in the first place. That was easier than getting warm air out. So the plans are for lighter trains like the new ones on the Victoria Line.

Peter Miller on new Victoria Line Train

With Tube passengers numbers at a record high of four million journeys a day, I asked Hendy if he had a magic wand, what could he do about capacity and how he could make our Tube journeys more comfortable & pleasant.

He said "Firstly I would wish that Trade Unions would recognise they shouldn't continually threaten to go on strike". Hendy said that union leaders seem to think that as the Tube is publicly owned, that money will come from somewhere and demands will be caved into. "Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of staff are fantastic," he added, but he obviously felt that the bargaining tactics used by unions were influenced by the thought of a bottomless public vat of money.

"Secondly, work on improving the system has to be done and it has to be done now. There's no easy solution to increasing capacity. Sadly there isn't a magic wand. But we need to explain properly what work needs to be done.

"I think we're on our way to a pretty customer-friendly system. On most stations hopefully you'll notice that staff normally make eye contact with you. This didn't happen 10 years ago. I'm convinced we need visible people on and around the system, being seen and being helpful. Being stuck behind a screen doesn't do this.  
(Another clue- as if more were needed - as to what he thinks of the unions' dispute over ticket office closures)

"Finally I'd wish that no new governing methods like PPP were invented. Hire the right management teams and leave them alone to do the work. We don't need arbiters and regulators as this slows things down. We just need people who know what they're doing."

I'd like to thank Peter Hendy for spending time with us and we hope to be able to chat to him again next year. Look out for IanVisits and LondonReconnections posts as they're sure to cover more of our conversation including Hendy's thoughts on mobile phone coverage on the Tube, how TfL works with National Rail in London and what he thinks about Boris Bikes.

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