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Boris Johnson (finally) answers your questions

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 08:54 UK time, Saturday, 12 March 2011

Regular Mind the Gap readers may well remember that a long, long time ago we asked for your transport questions, which we would then put to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to answer.

The response was fantastic and we got dozens and dozens of great questions via email, Twitter and comments on Mind the Gap. We thank you.

And then there was nothing. Until now...

In keeping with the best transport traditions, we apologise for the delay.

Obviously, Boris Johnson was not able to answer every single question you sent in. But here, in the spring of 2011 are his answers to some of the questions you submitted in the winter of 2010.

So, cast your mind back a few months, when London was covered in snow and the winds of industrial action was blowing across the Tube tracks...

The questions are in bold and the Mayor's verbatim answers are in regular text.

I refer to the much forecasted snow that landed on Saturday 18 December and the scandalous fact that a 1-hour car journey, from Victoria Park to Junction 2 of the M1 motorway actually took 4-hours.

Zero snow ploughs and zero grit spreaders were seen, plus there was no roadside grit available for motorists stuck on the slippery slopes of north London, better known as Holloway road and Archway road.

Some may remember the "Mayor pledges to keep capital moving through big freeze".

I would like to ask Boris Johnson why he, Transport for London and assorted Borough councillors decided to ignore the weather forecast and simply observe as London's roads became gridlocked?

We certainly did not ignore the forecast. We stockpiled record supplies of grit and used it very effectively so that if the bad weather had continued we could have kept our roads running for up to a fortnight.

I would also like to say that thousands of TfL staff worked day and night to keep London moving throughout the cold weather; during which time the Tube, buses, DLR, Overground, Tramlink and London's strategic Red Route road network continued to operate well despite the coldest temperatures experienced in London for more than 20 years.

I had to sleep at St Pancras Station and was stranded in London for two days.

No one could close the large doors to stop the freezing wind from blowing in. No one could bring in portable radiators. No blankets were provided for the young and elderly who had to sleep here.

No one was providing any information and there were ambiguous statements from different authorities.

It was all unnecessary and clear leadership with a contingency plan could have made a huge difference. Why is it that nobody seemed to be in charge?

This situation was clearly unacceptable as I made clear at the time. Even in exceptional weather there is no excuse for poor communication and neglect of customers.

I do not have direct control over Eurostar or National Rail but we lobbied them aggressively to raise their game. I will always make sure that those who provide services for Londoners and for those who visit the capital are made aware of their obligations.

When we were made aware of the complaints being made we immediately got in touch with Eurostar to make it clear that their customers deserve the utmost consideration and information. And we were also in touch with the train companies to urge them to improve the services they were running.

TfL did a great job of de-icing their tracks and keeping their trains moving. But by contrast the overland services had a lot of issues and I think it would be helpful if we were given more of a role in the oversight of those services.

However that is an ongoing debate and in the event of any further bad weather this winter the major transport operators must ensure they can step up to the plate and keep their trains moving.

Why does transport in London grind to a complete halt on Christmas Day?

I have been told by TfL (when Ken Livingstone was mayor) that the system shuts down to allow employees to be home with their families. Why?

A great many of the employees are of different faiths and will not celebrate Christmas. Employees in other public services in the UK don't get the same consideration.

Isn't it important to get NHS staff and workers in other vital services to work?

I appreciate many Londoners have to work on Christmas Day and I am particularly grateful to the noble public servants who keep police stations, ambulances and hospitals operating at that special time - also to those in the media who keep us informed and entertained.

TfL bosses tell me that the resources needed to run even a skeleton service would not be justified because of the low level of usage that would be expected on Christmas Day, when the vast majority of shops and businesses are closed.

However it is a perfect time for routine maintenance and upgrade work to take place, and for new trains and signalling systems to be tested as it minimises disruption to passengers.

That is why a small army of transport workers are hard at work that day cracking on with making vital improvements to the capital's public transport network.

You have given diesel vehicles exemption from the congestion charge despite them generating much higher PM10 and NOX than the Prius that he is removing from the exemption. You have also recently backtracked on banning 10 year old diesel taxis by 2015.

Why have you failed to take decisive action to deal with the air pollution crisis in London from diesel cars, taxis and buses that cause the premature deaths of thousands of people?

The figures you mention with regard to estimated premature deaths come from a study I commissioned last year to better understand the impact of pollution on Londoners' health.

You are absolutely right to point out these findings underline that this is a serious health issue and it is one which we are determined to tackle with the introduction of long term sustainable measures.

I have recently announced plans for example, to bring in the capital's first ever age limit on black cabs, which will mean the removal of a license to operate from 1200 of the oldest, most polluting vehicles starting from next year. This will coincide with the introduction of tougher standards for the London Low Emission Zone which will broadly double its current impact on PM10 levels.

Last year saw the introduction of an unprecedented package of cycling initiatives to get people on bikes especially in central London, where pollution can be at it highest.

With regard to buses, by 2012, we will have 300 hybrid buses in operation, a zero-polluting hydrogen bus route starts this year and the New Bus for London will be 40 per cent less polluting than traditional diesel models.

We are also currently ramping up activities to encourage Londoners to buy electric vehicles in greater numbers.

To deliver an immediate short term impact in the most polluted parts of central London we are applying a solution that literally sticks the particulate matter to the carriageway and prevents it re-circulating in the air.

Trials elsewhere suggest this will reduce pollution levels by between 10-20 per cent. If it is successful, we will introduce this elsewhere.

The alternative fuel discount that previously operated with the congestion charge was overtaken by technology. As a result some new vehicles that did not qualify for it had better environmental performance than other vehicles that did qualify. That was clearly nonsensical and is why we introduced a new vehicle discount that will encourage a switch to much cleaner and greener cars.

As Mayor, I am duty bound to balance the city's environmental and economic needs and I believe our anti-pollution plans put London on course to deliver a better quality of life in our city without imposing unrealistic and punitive regimes.

Why have TfL changed the info line from 020 7222 1234 to a 0843 number, which now costs us more money?

This is especially because we have to listen to recorded messages and hang on for about 5 minutes for an operator.

On my mobile package 020 numbers are free. 0843 numbers are expensive. Not everyone can access the TfL website from a mobile phone.

I am advised by TfL that the change of number was made to allow customers to get hold of accurate travel information much quicker than in the past. It means up to one minute is being saved on the speed of the call which should help to save money on call times.

From a BT landline the standard charge is just 5 pence per minute and a typical mobile contract call will range from 20 pence per minute depending on what mobile contract the user has.

That charge system is very similar to the old 0207 number where users were also charged variable amounts depending on their package with landline network providers and a typical 'pay as you go' mobile contract would also have cost 20 pence per minute.

I think the best possible advice is that people should check charges with their service provider before making the call. But don't forget there are lots of other ways to get hold of that information free of charge, such as by visiting the TfL website, through the media or from information at stations.

Is it best for Londoners to remove the western congestion zone? Won't it lead to increased congestion and poorer air quality?

I aim to be a Mayor who listens, who is fair and who applies the democratic process. I believe I was all of these things when making this decision.

Londoners elected me on a manifesto to consult on the future of the zone and they made their antipathy for it crystal clear. Over 13,000 people responded to our consultation and nearly two thirds of them wanted it removed.

Our analysis suggests that the removal of the western extension should only result in a small increase in traffic and congestion in the area. We expect our roadworks permit scheme and other work to improve traffic flow to deal with that.

The impact of removing the zone on air quality is also predicted to be minimal but Transport for London will ensure any changes are mitigated to ensure there is no adverse effect from its removal.

Pollution is an issue that we are seeking to tackle across London and are taking action that will deliver improvements above and beyond any small changes that the removal of the western extension may have brought.

We have also made other changes to make the congestion charge fairer and more effective. It is essential the charge continues to do what it says on the tin and remains a deterrent to all but essential journeys into the heart of the Capital, which is why I took the difficult decision to increase the daily charge to £10.

However thousands of motorists have taken comfort in our brilliant new Auto Pay accounts that knock one pound off the price of the charge and mean they will never again be clobbered by a penalty notice for forgetting to pay the charge.

We also replaced the outdated alternative fuel discount with a new greener vehicle discount that we believe will encourage a switch to much cleaner and greener cars.

In light of Catriona Patel, a cyclist who was killed by a drunk lorry driver with numerous previous convictions and disqualifications, do you think the current system does enough to keep dangerous drivers off London's roads?

This was a horrendous case, whenever we have a cycling fatality in London it is a tragedy and my utmost sympathies are with Catriona Patel's family.

There were 10 cycle fatalities in the capital last year and and in every case I look to try and work out why it has happened.

It is particularly tragic that we often see deaths caused by a cyclist being caught by an HGV turning left. That is a terrible thing and we are trying to address it by educating HGV drivers, and putting special mirrors on traffic lights.

I would however like to make the point that cycling in London is getting safer the whole time. I know it may not feel like that but the statistics show that while cycling has more than doubled in the last ten years the number of serious injuries and fatalities has declined by a fifth.

Ultimately what I want to achieve in our city is a situation where everyone who uses a motorised vehicle on our roads knows they will find cyclists on the streets of London, and that as a result they drive responsibly.

But perhaps most vital is getting safety advice to cyclists, whether new or experienced, particularly about road positioning and crucially that being in the blind spot of a large vehicle could potentially have tragic if not fatal consequences.

With so many senior TfL staff leaving recently, are you prepared to pay top dollar for the best people in London?

My aim must always be to deliver the best possible value to taxpayers and the number of TfL staff that earn more than £100k has fallen by 8.5% during the last financial year.

However TfL is a diverse and complex organisation that competes for talent against the top FTSE companies. And it is imperative that they are able to attract and retain high calibre talent with the critical specialist skills required to perform the diverse roles within the organisation.

Our huge Investment Programme requires niche specialist skills such as signalling engineers, to deliver its vast projects. To get the individuals we need on board we will have to ensure their pay remains competitive.

What is being done to prevent more strikes on the Tube in 2011?

A great number of the strikes that have taken place have been unnecessary and unreasonable. And my strong view is there is no reason why Londoners should be held to ransom in this way.

I really don't think that when we have so much to do, when we have so much to look forward to, that we will achieve anything more by pointless industrial action. All it succeeds in doing is alienating Londoners, stopping people from going about their jobs, and impeding our great city from leading the country, as it will, out of an economic recession.

I do defend the right to strike. People have the right to withdraw their labour but they do not in my view have the right to do it in a way that is persistently unreasonable and capricious and vexatious and done for political reasons.

What I would propose is that we protect the majority of hard working people who want to get around London by having a threshold, so that you can only have a strike when at least 50 per cent of the members of the union of the relevant part of the union workforce have actually taken part in the ballot.

I believe there is support for that view in the Government.


  • Comment number 1.

    Although I am not particularly political I hope in future we only have a mayor elected by at least 50% of the whole London electorate.

  • Comment number 2.

    I asked the question about Caitriona Patel and cycle safety, so I am grateful for a response, but unfortunately I don't think it addresses the key issue. Caitriona's case highlighted that there are insufficient safeguards to prevent those with previous convictions for dangerous or reckless driving being allowed to take charge of HGVs in London. At the very least, firms must be held to account for the drivers they employ, which is not currently the case.

  • Comment number 3.

    Two points...

    1. Boris reckons that the Borismaster bus will be "40% less polluting than traditional diesel models." That's a big claim, considering the already stringent standards imposed by EURO IV, which the current fleet meets, and EURO V, met by newer buses. Exactly what does he mean?

    2. On the phone number, I fail to see how changing the number of the same contact centre will get people through faster. It just smacks of blatant revenue-sharing, and in fact would not be allowed in central government. If TfL were serious about having a decent non-geographical number they should have opted for an 0300 number, which is charged as a landline.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm astonished. Is Boris actually taking control of anything, or is he just making fluffy excuses? I'm getting the feeling he's a figurehead, when we need a leader.

  • Comment number 5.

    Desperately disappointing set of answers - hardly any of which seem to answer the actual question that was asked.

    Out of interest, how many questions were actually submitted to him?

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm curious how the "billion passenger per year" claim is calculated in the latest excuse for interminable delays and closures,the "We're doing everything we can to upgrade your tube" posters.Everything we can to find excuses they mean,of course its really a billion passenger journeys which has been the case for many years and is a very different measurement.More spin and misdirection from City Hall and London Underground Broadway,known amongst LU workers for good reason as propaganda house.

  • Comment number 7.

    i believe he's refering to diesel hybrid busses. according to the some media and some manufactures they can save £200,000 in fuel over their lifetime and there are nearly 7000 busses in the city. 200000x7000 1.4b over say 10 years plus clean air. not bad till all electric replace them

  • Comment number 8.

    Poor response to the question on the strangle hold the unions have on our tube. Although I was a supporter of Boris and his policies on busting the unions actions, this response is clearly nothing but meaningless words and has begun to erode my faith in his abilities. I hope he doesn't turn into a self publising, self loving politician that turned Ken into public servant into a public joke. Boris must change the voting system and crush the likes of Bob Crow and other union leaders who only want to line the pockets of their members and themselves by holding Londoners to ransom.


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