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Archives for March 2011

Hanging up on mobile phone plans for the Tube

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 20:53 UK time, Thursday, 31 March 2011

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All alone on the Tube? You can't even phone a friend for company


You always got the sense when you spoke to City Hall that it was a long way off. Well it is now.

You won't be able to use your mobiles on the Tube for the foreseeable future.

The Mayor's office and mobile operators had been in talks for some time but it has come to nothing.

The Mayor, Boris Johnson, wanted the mobile companies to pay. So either that was a stumbling block or the technical reasons were a problem.

It would have been quite a feat installing relay stations in a tunnel as well as an upgrade programme going on.

Either way it looks like the future of communication underground is now wi-fi.

Wi-fi is cheaper, easier and perhaps, some would say, more practical.

Thoughts?

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What the Tube upgrade is doing for Oxford Street...

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 17:36 UK time, Wednesday, 30 March 2011

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This is what the Tube upgrade actually looks like to many people.

This is Oxford Street and it is closed to one lane because of the work to build the new Bond Street station.

I doubt the retailers are happy.

You can expect to see a lot more of this kind of thing with the Tube upgrade and Crossrail.

Follow me on Twitter: @TomSEdwards

The royal wedding Oyster card...

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 09:58 UK time, Tuesday, 29 March 2011

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The royal wedding Oyster card.

What do you think? Tacky? Regal?

Follow me on Twitter: @TomSEdwards

Does wi-fi on the Tube get your vote?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 14:07 UK time, Friday, 25 March 2011

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It's been revealed that commuters will be able to get wi-fi at 120 stations by next June.

What's not yet clear - and won't be for some time - is who will be able to use it for free.

At the moment, a trial at Charing Cross is being run by BT Openzone. It allow those with phones from 02 Tesco Mobile, Orange, Vodafone and other devices with "wi-fi minutes in their contract" to access the broadband.

The service is also free for five million BT broadband customers with unlimited BT Wi-Fi minutes and for BT Openzone customers.

Others have to buy vouchers on the site to use the wi-fi.

The research from Charing Cross Tube station found "that over half of London Underground customers surveyed felt that access to wi-fi would make their experience of using the Tube better".

Obviously meaning just under half thought it wouldn't improve their experience. So it meets the Mayor's 50% "strike mandate rule" - just.

The contract will be put out for tender shortly with the supplier paying Transport for London for the privilege of supplying the wi-fi. TfL will want a good deal financially.

TfL has told me that it will stipulate in any contract that there will be some free access to all users - probably to its websites. So you will be able to find out travel updates.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said:

"The roll out of wi-fi technology across the platforms and public areas of our Tube stations will finally allow Londoners to use mobile devices to pick up their emails, access social media sites and stay in touch with the world above while they traverse our subterranean transport network.

"We are inviting companies to bid to do this before next June, which would mean that even Londoners going underground will be able to keep up to date with the British medal tally at the 2012 Games."



Some experts I've been talking to say wi-fi is by far the easier option than installing mobile phone networks on the Tube. It's also cheaper and less disruptive.

Labour on the London Assembly also say that by giving wi-fi the go ahead while at the same time talking to mobile companies about installing mobile phone equipment it shows confusion in the Mayor's Office about communication on the Tube.

No doubt that would be dismissed by the Mayor.

So could wi-fi be the 3rd way of underground communication? Is this a compromise that'll fly? Actually is it preferable to mobile phone coverage on the Tube??

As ever let me know what you think ...

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Thameslink project on the right track

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 11:17 UK time, Wednesday, 23 March 2011

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It does seem to bob along below the headlines - there is probably a little Thameslink fatigue because it has been in gestation so long.

So here's a little footage on the ongoing Thameslink project which seems to be going to plan so far.

The footage is of the work extending two platforms at Elstree & Borehamwood station by 70m each. It was completed in a single weekend, a record time.

It's all part of the £6bn investment in the Thameslink route.

Expect longer trains by December and new trains by 2018.

The Network Rail Press Release says:

Platforms at stations along the Thameslink route are being extended by a combined 4km - longer than the runway at Luton airport. Network Rail has already completed over 70% of this work, ready for the introduction of 50% longer trains in December 2011 and the introduction of a new trains in 2018.

Longer trains formed of additional existing carriages will begin calling at stations between Bedford and St Albans from December this year, which is expected to reduce the number of people on board services for Elstree & Borehamwood. The first longer 12-carriage trains are expected to start calling at the station in December 2018 once a fleet of new trains has been built and delivered into service.

David Statham, projects director for First Capital Connect which operates Thameslink route services, said:

"This December we'll use additional existing carriages to introduce our first handful of 50% longer 12-carriage trains.

"These will be targeted to relieve the busiest services that run fast between Bedford and Brighton, providing, in turn, some relief to those services calling at Elstree & Borehamwood.

"From December 2018 a brand new fleet of trains will be fully online, allowing 12-carriage trains to call at Elstree & Borehamwood for the first time, providing still further relief for congested services."

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Heathrow expansion grounded indefinitely?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 12:05 UK time, Tuesday, 22 March 2011

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Here's a piece I've done on the Labour Party reconsidering its support for a third runway at Heathrow.

While Labour say they are merely reassessing their policies, campaigners believe they are paving the way to drop support for expansion at Heathrow completely.

The phrase I heard a lot yesterday was "long grass".

Many people think aviation expansion is no longer a political priority. This really frustrates businesses, unions and the aviation industry and they think all the major political parties are putting their heads in the sand on this one.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has tried to stimulate a debate about more runways in the South East.

"Boris Island" - the idea of runways in the Thames Estuary - has been ridiculed, feared and admired. But no party has yet outlined how, if or when there will be expansion in aviation in the UK.

Does it matter? And why is aviation expansion so important to the South East?

The business argument includes job creation. In fact according to BAA's website 30,000 people are employed at Heathrow so it is a huge income generator.

The business community also thinks Heathrow has to remain competitive and maintain a high number of routes to emerging markets.

As part of that is Heathrow's position as a hub airport. This means passengers spend money at the hub but more importantly the argument goes that as cargo goes through there, passenger routes can be maintained.

But the big issue for customers will be cost. John Strickland from JLS Consulting told me that if demand for air travel starts to exceed supply then air fares will go up.

He says as long-haul routes are the most profitable for airlines, then you could see a phasing out of short-haul flights as slots become more scarce.

Also, there is the reliability argument that if Heathrow is running at capacity. As soon as there are any problems, then delays stack up extremely quickly.

Of course, anti-expansion campaigners would dispute all of the above and say the environmental costs are not worth it.

The Government's aviation strategy review is expected in the coming months so we will know more then about how or if aviation will get the expansion it craves.

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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

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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.

TravelWatch may be down but it's not out yet

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 12:25 UK time, Wednesday, 2 March 2011

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I've had lots of responses to the last blog I did on the silent demise of London TravelWatch.

A few bloggers rightly brought up the fact that they had highlighted this story before. It has been largely ignored by the mainstream media.

I am, however, reliably informed that TravelWatch's death may be much exaggerated, and there are many that believe killing it off is actually going to take some doing.

It seems because a transport users forum has been around in the capital in some shape or form then it is tangled up in all kinds of primary legislation.

That means to kill London TravelWatch would need an Act of Parliament.

It's not on the Localism Bill and those who want to get rid of it will have to find another Act to get TravelWatch abolished.

And that may take some time with the Government's priorities elsewhere.

That doesn't mean to say London TravelWatch isn't under extreme pressure from its paymasters, the London Assembly.

They still want significant reductions in its budget. That makes the job of investigating complaints more difficult and commuters in the capital are seeing their independent voice reduced.

Do they care enough to stop that?

Also, the Mayor today sent this letter out to commuters on TfL's mailing list.

I was delighted to open London's latest transport improvement on Monday with the extension of the East London line to Highbury & Islington.

This is just one element of a huge upgrade of London's transport network, particularly on the Tube.

The Tube is carrying more passengers than ever - well over 1 billion a year - and we have a comprehensive plan to upgrade it.

There remains much work to do, but real improvements are being delivered: new, spacious trains on the Victoria line; air-conditioned trains on the Metropolitan line; and, this Spring, completion of the Jubilee line upgrade, bringing faster, more reliable journeys across the capital.

I completely understand the frustration caused when we have to close certain lines to complete the work. That's why we are keeping closures to a minimum and redoubling our efforts to keep passengers informed. Check out our plan and what's happening at your station or on your line at tfl.gov.uk

Your Tube service will soon celebrate its 150th birthday. Our vital investment and upgrade will keep London moving for many more decades to come.

Follow me on Twitter: @TomSEdwards

Can they get the message out on the Tube upgrades?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 12:22 UK time, Tuesday, 1 March 2011

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London Underground has admitted that in the past it hasn't communicated very well with travellers about the scale and the complexity of the Tube upgrades.

To tackle it, part of the plan eventually is for localised updates about what's been done, for example, over a weekend.

I noticed these new adverts in the Evening Standard last night and on the Tube itself.


This is probably the start of a new advertising campaign by LU who are trying to get its point across that the upgrades are necessary.

They are trying to make the point that the upgrades will involve considerable disruption at some stage but in the end the rewards of more frequent faster trains will be worth it.

Convinced?

UPDATE: 14:45 GMT

Just had a call from the TfL press office.

Yes, they are part of the new campaign, however the real aim of the adverts is to point people to the website.

TfL also outlined the costs for the campaign which are £300,000 on production and development, and £300k on the advertising.

The real detail on the upgrades is now on the TfL website including films and a plan of the works line by line and details of the weekend closures. There is also a weekend closures email.

Here's also the full upgrade timetable (PDF). Screengrab below.


Follow me on Twitter: @TomSEdwards

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