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January 24, 2012

Ken’s Dead Deal.

There’s always a risk in campaigns, debates and the like that opponents with antithetically different positions just shout “No you’re wrong!” “No you’re wrong!” “NO YOU’RE WRONG!” at each other, without any real progress being made. To an extent, that’s what’s happened over Ken Livingstone’s pledge to cut fares. Boris knows Ken’s wrong and is never going to budge from that position, whilst Ken’s never going to admit to lying to the electorate. So stalemate, then? Not quite. Enter stage left the neutrals…

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Brian Paddick had confirmed that, on fares…

“the mayor is right and Ken Livingstone is wrong. The money is simply not there to deliver a reduction in fares in London.”

Today there’s yet further independent backing for Boris’ position. Channel 4 FactCheck have adjudicated that Ken’s claim that he can cut fares by 7% without reducing investment or hitting services is pure fiction. They’ve spoken to Stephen Glaister, professor of transport and infrastructure at Imperial College, and Professor Tony Travers, director of the LSE London research centre at the London School of Economics, in coming to the following verdict:

“Mr Livingstone is wrong to claim there’s a £729m surplus, and there is no separate budget for investment projects. If he cuts fares, TfL expects to lose £1.12bn in income from fares – and that’s a hole he wouldn’t be able to plug without hitting the day-to-day funding for London’s transport or taking money from investment projects.

How he’d do that is up to him, but it could mean that tube and bus route upgrades are delayed, or TfL could be forced to shed some staff members.

Any mayoral candidate can raid the TfL’s coffers to cut fares. But cutting fares could mean cutting investment – which London’s transport system has been sorely starved of for decades. Investing money to bring it up to speed only began in earnest under the last Labour government.

And even now, Prof Travers said the system needs “billions and billions more money” to update it. “The underground still has bits of Bakelite signalling – stuff that would easily be more at home in a science museum,” he told us.

One way round it, would be to ask central government for more money, which Mr Livingstone did manage when Labour was in power. Prof Glaister said: “Ken in the past has had success blagging more money out of the government, but getting more from the current government looks entirely unlikely.””

Given this is Ken’s big flagship policy, such a dismissal of his claims by an independent study is hugely damaging. If he wants any credibility at all, he must now say how he would fund his pledge. Given the above, his options are increasingly limited. He could reduce tube investment, resulting in more delays, suspensions and cancellations, bigger queues and perhaps an end to Boris’ plans to roll out improved disabled access across the network. He could cut services – reduce the number of bus routes, cut the number of tubes per hour, perhaps scrap a large number of night buses, shed a huge number of staff. He could ramp up council tax – not exactly beyond him, given it rose by 153% during his time as mayor. Whatever he would do, he needs to be open about it, and end this current deceit in which he’s treating Londoners like idiots.

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