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Thursday 2 April 2009

Crikey and Yikes – I’m off, Readers!

The eyes of the world are on the G20, which may be a relief for the Tories, particularly in London. Because, while in mid-answer before the Commons’ Transport Select Committee this afternoon, Mayor of London Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson declined to continue his appearance and walked out.

This Mayor business is proving rather taxing on Boris. He’s shipped several deputies already, there’s been backpedalling on Congestion Charging zones, the Cross River Tram’s been binned, and now the Transport Select Committee has had the temerity to suggest that his handling of the disruption to transport following recent snowfalls might not be up to scratch.

It’s not as if he wasn’t warned. Ken Livingstone – who might just know about the demands of the job, having done it for two full terms – warned that Boris would need to be a full time Mayor. But Johnson’s continuing to write regular columns for the Telegraph suggests he is allocating some of his time elsewhere.

Just what is driving the Johnson mayoralty? What are the big themes? Are there any? The cancelling of the Cross River Tram is one particularly worrying development: London is the one city in the UK that can point to a half decent and reasonably integrated public transport offering. Improving that offering – getting good quality services into areas that need them – is an essential part of giving Londoners an alternative to the private car. As other cities have shown – Madrid and Barcelona being two recent examples – there are times when a full blown Metro system can’t be justified, but you need something better than buses. Thus the modern tram.

Ken Livingstone realised that, in London, even the tram would need planning and commitment. He also realised that buses could be done much more quickly, and the next best people mover after a tram is a bendy bus. Johnson’s decision to phase out these vehicles on the flimsiest of pretexts would make matters worse. And his idea of developing a “new Routemaster” is just potty. No safety regime anywhere in the western world would countenance the development of such a vehicle, and London isn’t going to be an exception. It isn’t going to happen.

Quit farting around, Boris. Take this job seriously – shape up, or ship out.

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