BBC BLOGS - Mind The Gap

Archives for June 2010

The start of the big transport squeeze?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 19:02 UK time, Wednesday, 30 June 2010

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We are begining to get a drip drip drip of projects that have been "descoped" (that's cut back to most people) and today another one plopped into my inbox.

This time its the electronic counters at bus stops that tell you how long there is to the next bus.

London Travelwatch says the original 4000 is be cut to only 2500. That means only 1 in 6 bus stops will now have them. London Travelwatch thinks bus passengers will feel short-changed. I await the response from Transport for London but I assume it's a cost cutting measure due to budgetary constraints.

Also, we've heard from Network Rail that it isn't now going to update platforms 9-14 at Clapham Junction.

And a real sign of things to come. A new re-vamped station like this one at Whitechapel built with a big saving. Remember savings were also delivered on the Crossrail station at Canary Wharf.

Rumours abound that other stations like London Bridge will go the same way and be functional and not another St Pancras. If the tube upgrade and Crossrail is protected is this all fair enough?

On a separate note. You might have seen a report I did recently about a trial by Ealing Council where they've phased out some traffic lights. Well, it seems a 140 traffic lights are now going to be scrapped by Transport for London on it's road network. Not everyone likes that. Val Shawcross from Labour on the London Assembly says:

"Pensioners, those with disabilities and parents of young children might not shout as loud as car drivers but they're ones who stand to lose out under these plans."

What do you think??

Taking things queasy on public transport?

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Steve Phillips Steve Phillips | 18:24 UK time, Wednesday, 23 June 2010

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Interior of a DLR train

Ever had one of those journeys where you're being bounced around on the rails?

A number of you on Twitter have said that the DLR is one of the worst offenders for travel sickness:

@21five I have a nasty bruise on my back from standing next to a pole on the DLR yesterday and getting bounced around.

@emley73 Worst stretch for bounce is Blackwall to Poplar.

@hazeltsoiwiles YES. I go from Bow Church to Deptford Bridge quite often too and always feel dreadful by the time I get to Island Gardens.

@Becky_Williams I travel on the DLR every day, I'm always petrified about falling off my seat into the aisle because of all the bouncing!

@bohaynowell The Met line can make me feel like I should be wearing a sports bra, but it doesn't make me feel sick.

I've been on the DLR and Metropolitan line in the past myself and can testify for the over-exuberant wobbly-ness.

Have you ever felt travel sick on the buses, trains or Tube?

The mayor and TfL find reasons to be cheerful

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 11:55 UK time, Wednesday, 23 June 2010

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Boris cycling outside City Hall

I've just sat through an upbeat Transport for London board meeting at City Hall.

Some items of interest that probably improved the mood. Passenger numbers are up for this 4th quarter of the year compared to the 3rd.

For example, the Tube passenger numbers are up by 1.1% and bus passengers by 2%.

The cycle superhighways also look like they will be ready for the launch on the 19 July with engineering work over 70% complete.

That does leave 30% to be completed in a few weeks so we'll see....

And it looks like the East London Line Phase 2 from Surrey Quays down to Clapham Junction could be rebranded at the suggestion of the Mayor.

We might see it being called the "New South London Line." I suppose really it will be part of the orbital London Overground when it's finished.

And again more calls to make London's case to anyone in Government who will listen.

As the Mayor Boris Johnson said:

"London should not be treated the same as everywhere else. We have a long battle in persuasion but it's one we can win."

The reality, if the Department of Transport gets hit with a 25 per cent budget cut, may be somewhat different ....

Why are there strikes on the Tube and DLR?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 13:40 UK time, Tuesday, 22 June 2010

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DLR in Canary Wharf

I thought I'd outline some of the reasons behind the strikes we could get on the tube network ...

DLR

This strike is about pay and it concerns "passenger service agents" also known as train captains (guards to me and you).

As DLR trains are automated these are the staff who wander up and down the carriages making sure everything runs smoothly.

They also control the doors and can evacuate trains and can apply the brakes. The issue boils down to the introduction of three car DLR trains.

The RMT Union believes they should be paid more for the extra passengers they have to deal with.

An offer has been made by the operator Serco and that's being considered by RMT Reps.

All Serco will say is talks are ongoing. Neither side will tell me at the moment what the offer is.

The strike is due to start at 4am tomorrow (Wednesday) when the passenger service agents won't clock on for work.

Transport for London have told me there will be a service of probably half the number of usual trains and all DLR stations will be open.

Tubelines

This dispute concerns engineers that work at Tubelines who maintain and are upgrading the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines - and something called the Emergency Response Unit.

It started as a pay and conditions dispute between those engineers and the company Tubelines.

What's complicated matters is that TfL are in the process of buying out equity in Tubelines and taking them over.

And so the RMT Union now also want reassurances about jobs in that transfer.

TfL says:

"The RMT have time and again called for Tube Lines' work to come back under public control, and that is what we are working to achieve.

"Furthermore this is an existing dispute about pay and conditions and not about the proposed transfer of Tube Lines to TfL."


TfL says it can't interfere in a Tubelines matter until they take it over on June 30th.

The RMT Union dispute that and point out that a new Chief Executive was in fact appointed by none other than TfL.

So will it affect passengers when engineers are due to walk out tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 7pm for 48hours?

Transport for London says it will run a full service and all stations will remain open.

The strike does not involve station staff and tube drivers. TfL says it "does not envisage significant disruption to passengers."

It also says it will be able to run an "Emergency Response Unit."

The RMT Union says:

"We would call again on the Mayor, who takes over Tube Lines next week, to intervene even at this late stage to resolve this dispute.If he can afford to fill the Tube Lines shareholders pockets with a £310 million pay off then he can afford to give our members the assurances on jobs and conditions that they are seeking."

So what d'you think?

UPDATE: 22 June, 3.15PM

The RMT have just confirmed that the Tube Lines strike will go ahead tomorrow. However, the strike on the DLR has been suspended pending further consultation on with members on a new offer.

Here's what RMT General Secretary Bob Crow had to say:

"Tube Lines have failed to give us the assurances we were seeking on jobs. The action goes ahead and it is clear that it will have a major impact and that there's a real danger that tube officials will take serious risks with safety to try and run trains.

"We welcome the intervention of our colleagues from the Fire Brigades Union to try and stop that from happening. No one should underestimate the safety-critical role of the tube's maintenance and emergency response crews."

"Without the Emergency Reponse Unit it would be extremely risky to try and evacuate a train deep in a tunnel between stations and with the recent spate of breakdowns and derailments only a fool would take such a reckless gamble.

"We would call again on the Mayor, who takes over Tube Lines next week, to intervene even at this late stage to resolve this dispute. If he can afford to fill the Tube Lines shareholders pockets with a £310 million pay off then he can afford to give our members the assurances on jobs and conditions that they are seeking."

Where is your Tube train right now?

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Steve Phillips Steve Phillips | 13:30 UK time, Monday, 21 June 2010

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Earlier this month, Transport for London removed restrictions on their travel data.

I know that doesn't sound like an earth-shattering revelation, but it means that anyone can go to the Greater London Authority's Datastore site and make applications such as a live map showing where each Tube train is right now (developed by Matthew Somerville).

Live Tube map

Looks like we'll see more of these on our PCs and mobile phones. Are they useful? You'll be the judge.

(Some) cycle hire docking stations ready to go

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 10:21 UK time, Thursday, 17 June 2010

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Here's a treat for all you cycling fans. Some footage provided by Transport for London of the first cycle hire docking station that's just been installed at Bank.

Notice the ease of docking. The smooth locking process and the subtle Barclays sponsorship and the light blue "Cycle hire" branding.

Also fellow blogger Tory Troll reveals not all 400 will be ready by the launch date.

We knew some wouldn't be ready in time but 75 not getting planning permission is a bit of a scoop.

That's just under a fifth that won't be ready by the launch on July 30th... Was it to be expected? teething problems?

Do we even need drivers on the Tube?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 17:31 UK time, Wednesday, 16 June 2010

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Here's a story I've just broken on BBC News Online:

Tories want London Underground trains to be driverless

All trains on the London Underground should be driverless, according to the Conservative group on the London Assembly.

In a proposal to the mayor, the Tories claim it would save about £141m-a-year in wages and prevent strike action.

Transport for London (TfL) said staff on board trains reassure passengers, provide information and help with speedy alighting.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union said the proposal would hit safety.

You can read the rest of the story here. Or watch my TV report above.

I'll be keeping my ears to the ground to see how this story develops, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, what do you think?

UPDATE: 11am, 17 June

The RMT are ramping up their rhetoric against this story. Here's Bob Crow's latest statement:

"If London Underground move one inch to remove the drivers and operators from their trains it will be met with all-out industrial action and a total shutdown of the system until this lethal and ill-conceived proposal is shredded. We are demanding direct assurances from the Mayor himself, as the Chair of TfL, that this plan from within his own party has been killed off.

"People only have to look at the footage of the carnage down the tube after the 7/7 bombings, and the brave and critical role played by train operators and platform staff in dealing with that emergency situation, to see why these crew are so vital to the safety of Londoners.

"The people behind this Tory Party report not only want to get rid of the drivers but they want no staff on the tube trains at all. That just proves that they have no understanding of the tube system and a complete and utter disregard for passenger safety.

"We are already involved in a battle to defend Tube Lines, station and platform jobs and our fight for safe staffing levels across London Underground, including the use of industrial action, will continue."

Govt fully supports Crossrail - what could go wrong?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 17:39 UK time, Tuesday, 15 June 2010

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I've just returned from Canary Wharf where I interviewed the new Transport Secretary Philip Hammond about the Crossrail project.

Here's what he had to say in full:

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So, the government are supportive of Crossrail, with the usual caveats about 'maximising value' for the public.

Philip Hammond did, however, refuse to commit to any deadlines for the service, which is due to begin operating in 2017.

What could possibly go wrong between now and then?

What if the Mayor takes over London's railways?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 13:07 UK time, Tuesday, 15 June 2010

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At the launch of the pan-London Oyster card at the beginning of the year I asked the Mayor Boris Johnson if he wanted to take over London's overland rail system.

Boris Johnson standing at a train platform

I seem to remember he smiled diplomatically, played the straight bat saying Train Operating Companies must deliver want Londoners want - more regular services, ease of payment and safe stations.

Oyster has sorted out the payment (not without some quirks and glitches it has to be said) but it seems the rest may now happen.

As part of the Mayor's "Proposals for Devolution" plans are being proposed to give the Mayor more control over rail in London. It says:

"The Mayor and Secretary of State for Transport should jointly award the rail franchises for those suburban rail lines which are largely contained within the boundaries of greater London, to ensure a more integrated transport system. The Mayor should have a formal role in monitoring the franchises."

Commuters aren't going to complain if this improves suburban rail services and for many it will make sense.

However, as we've discovered recently some franchises like the East Coast mainline can start with the best of intentions and still hit problems when passenger numbers fall.

And it has been around for a while, Transport for London and the Department of Transport have already worked on franchises together in awarding the South Central contract last summer. This is the kind of franchise agreement you could see operators tied into under the Mayor:


  • Longer trains and platforms to meet projected demand to 2014

  • A minimum of 4 trains per hour (tph) on each route where the infrastructure allows

  • First and last trains to align with Tube operating hours

  • Oyster acceptance and retailing at stations within Zones 1-6 (subject to industry-wide agreements)

  • Staffing for at least 16 hours at each of 14 stations being gated by TfL

  • The transfer of stations, which will become part of the East London Line Extension (Phase 1), to TfL from the start of the franchise

However a note of caution. The devil is in the detail.

The report says the Mayor will have a say on "suburban rail lines which are largely contained within the boundaries of greater London."

Which are these then?

Many franchises stretch way beyond the M25 but are used by Londoners.

Will the Mayor be able to influence these or will those decisions stay with the Secretary of State? And what happens when they disagree?

Here's what Jo deBank, spokesperson for London TravelWatch has to say:

"We think that the Mayor having a role in awarding and monitoring rail franchises would be good for London's passengers. We agree completely that a better integrated transport for London's passengers is needed, and believe that the Mayor having a bigger say over railways in London would help to achieve this.

"As the Mayor has said, railways are vital to London, and closer co-ordination between regional and national government can only be a good thing for London's travellers.

"If the Mayor does take on this role, he should ensure he consults passengers when franchises are awarded so he knows exactly what those who use the service want and expect from it."

Sound familiar? The voice of Mind the Gap... Literally

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Steve Phillips Steve Phillips | 11:50 UK time, Friday, 11 June 2010

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tube_bbc595.jpg

Seems rude not to dedicate a blog post to the famous announcement on the Tube that bears our name, so here we are.

The recorded announcement of 'mind the gap' and 'stand clear of the doors please' came about in the late sixties, when it became too impractical for drivers to constantly announce the same statements at stations such as Bank or Piccadilly Circus.

The very first recordings appear to be lost to us, but as a child, I can certainly remember jumping out of my skin whenever this deep booming sergeant-major-type voice at Bank station piped up - ironically nearly slipping into said gap.

This turned out to be Peter Lodge, and if anyone has a recording him, email me! Though I'll probably still be jumpy.

Over the years the voices have changed, and I spoke to one of the most recent 'Voices of the Tube', Emma Clarke. She pointed out that Transport for London took who spoke their words very seriously...

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Although TfL say that "the voices are chosen by contractors on our behalf however the main attributes would be that they are clearly spoken and authoritative," it's clear that down the years the average commuter prefers a softer, kinder voice when being instructed - more John Le Mesurier than Windsor Davies.

Will Concorde return for a 2012 moment?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 12:32 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

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Concorde being towed past Parliament

A bit of a tea spluttering moment this morning reading about how enthusiasts think Concorde could be involved in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.

Forget the Red Arrows... Imagine Concorde flying over the Olympic stadium? That would be quite a sight.

The Save Concorde Group want Concorde back in the air and say it could be timed to coincide with the celebrations for the London Olympics in 2012.

The news according to them is that the checks at the weekend on the engines went well and the Save Concorde Group says:

"In an ironic twist, this major development gives further weight to the distinct possibility that Concorde could fly again and feature in the opening ceremony of the greatest event on the planet - the 2012 London Olympics."

So is this a flight of fancy? Or is there a chance it could happen? Is it a good idea?

My colleague, our Olympics Correspondent Adrian Warner, tells me London 2012 say:

"There's been no formal talks about it and this idea's been floating around with enthusiasts for some time."

British Airways tell me the tests weren't actually done on its Concorde but on one formerly owned by Air France and now owed by a Paris museum.

By way of explanation BA says:

"British Airways is incredibly proud to have flown this marvellous aircraft for 27 years. The decision to retire Concorde in 2003 was not taken lightly but was due to a combination of commercial and technical reasons.

We have loaned our Concordes to various museums and collections around the world following the retirement of our fleet from service in November 2003.

We carry out maintenance audits of all of our Concordes around the world and are satisfied with their structural condition and how the respective new homes are looking after each of them.

There is a huge difference between keeping Concorde in an airworthy condition and maintaining them as ground based museum exhibits.

In the summer of 2003 before Concorde retired from commercial service we conducted a detailed study with Airbus which regrettably led us to conclude that it would not be feasible to keep a single Concorde flying on a ceremonial basis.

British Airways and Airbus know the aircraft's history in greater detail than anyone else and we firmly believe that the technical challenges of keeping a single Concorde airworthy are absolutely prohibitive.

Concorde is one of the most complex passenger aircraft ever built and has many specialist parts which are no longer available or technically supported.

Airbus has said on numerous occasions it is not possible to support British Airways, Air France or any other operator flying Concorde.

The aircraft no longer has a Certificate of Airworthiness which would enable it to fly in any capacity and without the manufacturer's support it is impossible for that certificate to be re-issued. "

Oh....

Does London have a north-south transport divide?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 16:05 UK time, Tuesday, 8 June 2010

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London skyline over the Thames

Has a black cabbie ever pulled over when you've flagged them down and said to you, "Sorry, guv, I don't go south of the river?"

Or is that an out of date cliche? Surely, in the current economic climate a cabbie would take you anywhere?

Similarly, the feeling among many south Londoners is that they are neglected when it comes to transport links and investment. But is that actually the case?

Historically, due to geology, the Tube has had more stations in the north and the rail network dominates in the south. Therefore investment from London Underground is skewed towards the north with the Tube upgrade.

TfL says it doesn't break down its £9.24bn budget on a north/nouth London or borough basis.

It does though point out that population wise in London 4.7 million live north of the Thames compared to 2.9million in the south.

It also says that in terms of TfL investment projects, south London is benefitting/will benefit from:

  • Continued funding of London's expanded bus network
  • Extension of Oyster to all commuter National Rail services
  • Victoria line upgrade
  • Northern line upgrade and second upgrade of Northern line
  • East London Line Extension
  • Upgrade of the London Overground network
  • Cycle Superhighways
  • Cycle Hire

It has to be pointed out that a lot of these investments apply to both north and south, and the real whopper at £16bn is Crossrail which will not go south of the river apart from at Woolwich and Abbey Wood. Although it may increase capacity overall on the Tube. Of the £16billion, £7.3 billion (at the moment) is coming from Transport for London.

Network Rail say its investing £2.25 billion in London stations until 2014. In South London it's also investing in the £5.5bn Thameslink project.

That will mean new and improved stations; new, longer and more frequent trains on the north-south Thameslink route.

It will also increase Southern and South West Trains from eight to ten carriages. And bring 12 car suburban trains to Southeastern services.

So does south London get a raw deal? Or is it proportional with the population? Let me know...

(By the way all figures are subject to cut/review by HM's Treasury....)

Countdowns coming to a crossing near you

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 13:26 UK time, Friday, 4 June 2010

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Pedestrians

It's long been a ambition of the Mayor to have countdowns on traffic lights to tell pedestrians how long they have left before the green man disappears.

Well, I can reveal that the trial will start in the next few weeks. The first will be on Blackfriars Road starting on 21 June.

Some are worried it may unnerve and deter some pedestrians from crossing, however the system has had some success in New York.

Eight sites have been chosen for the 18 month trial - they are:


  • Blackfriars Road, outside Southwark station, junction with Union Street and The Cut

  • Balham High Road, outside Balham Station, junction with Chestnut Grove and Balham Station Road

  • A306 Roehampton Lane, junction with the Queen Mary's Hospital access road
    Oxford Circus, junction of Oxford Street and Regent Street

  • High Holborn, outside Holborn station, junction with Kingsway and Southampton Row

  • The junction of Finsbury Square, Finsbury Pavement and Chiswell Street in Broadgate EC1

  • Tower Bridge Road, junction with Tooley Street

  • Old Kent Road at the junction of Surrey Square in Walworth SE17


These are the leaflets (PDF) TfL will soon be distributing to businesses around the trial sites.

According to documents that we've been given, there will be a demonstration of the system in the London Transport Museum from Monday.

Steve Phillips has also been conducting his own experiment on the pedestrian crossings.

What do you think? Does it jar a little with Boris Johnson's mission to declutter the streets? Or will it be safer?

If it works then this could appear at a crossing near you...

How long before the green man leaves you?

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Steve Phillips Steve Phillips | 10:35 UK time, Friday, 4 June 2010

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Pedestrian-crossing-signals.jpg

I had a tweet in on Friday morning to @BBCTravelAlert regarding the length of time you have to get over the diagonal crossing at Oxford Circus:

@jordanharper unless you run, there's no way you can make the Oxford Circus diagonal before it changes. Seems to shorten the more you try it!

So I popped down the road to find out for myself in the first Mind The Gap Test!

I took a recording gizmo with me so have a listen to what happened.

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The green man disappears halfway through crossing over, but the red man didn't make an apprearance until I got to the other side. Though I had to be quick of the mark.

Now, I consider myself (hopefully) to be pretty mobile, but what if you're on crutches as the seconds tick away?

@Iwrotethis, again on Twitter, mentioned that the green man is only to tell you when you can start to cross, though, not how long you have to cross.

But do the pedestrian crossings in your area leave you bolting across the road before the traffic gets you?

Tom, hopefully, will have a development on this later...

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