Pressure on Boris to give the gift of free travel to Tube sufferers

10 02 2011

At this morning’s budget debate at City Hall Boris Johnson was pressed again on the poor reliability on many Tube lines in recent months and weeks, and he again said he was “frustrated” about it all but claimed it was improving.

Also interestingly he did not deny blasting Peter Hendy on the phone last week because it had all gone to pot again.

In particular, there was a plea to improve life for the long-suffering people who have been stuck using the Jubilee Line  with all its delays and closures.

As a result of years of misery there, I know that he is currently being put under pressure to give them a day of free travel to recognise the disruption they have suffered.

Opposition politicians at City Hall say travellers deserve the gift because the line’s signalling upgrade is 18-months late and its stations have closed on more than 100 weekends since 2007.

They have asked that the Mayor repeat what happened on the East London Line’s opening day last year, where thousands enjoyed free travel along the route, or hand out free travelcards to commuters at Jubilee Line stations.

Mr Johnson says he wants to reward people because of the “highly disruptive” delays and that Transport for London is considering what to do when the Jubilee Line’s upgrade is completed this Spring.

But he has also admitted that he considers a day of free travel would probably be too expensive in the current financial climate.

Leader of City Hall’s Liberal Democrats Caroline Pidgeon insists that Boris Johnson should try to find the cash to recognise how much communities along the Jubilee Line have suffered.

“Given the immense disruption Jubilee Line passengers have suffered the Mayor must properly thank them for putting up with so much,” she told me.

“Regular users of the Jubilee Line deserve a few days free travel, but if the Mayor won’t fund this then he needs to come up with alternative proposals to celebrate the line operating properly again and to thank passengers for their patience.”

A series of delays and problems means the improvements on the Jubilee Line will finish 18 months later than promised this April-ish.

To speed the process Boris Johnson and London Underground stepped in last year to buy Tube Lines, who they blamed for the delays, at a cost of more than £300 million.

Because of the lessons learned from the disruption on the Jubilee Line, Tube bosses have decided to upgrade the Northern Line while imposing a ban on weekend and early evening closures.

“Both London Underground (LU) and I fully appreciate that Tube Lines’ lengthy programme to upgrade the Jubilee line has been highly disruptive to London,” Mr Johnson said in a new written response.

“In recognition of that, LU is investigating the most appropriate way to mark the completion of this major piece of work. Of course, the real benefit to users of the line will come in the form of more frequent trains, faster journeys and increased capacity that the upgrade will eventually deliver.

“Bearing in mind the cost incurred by LU in resolving the serious failings in the Tube Lines approach and the importance of prioritising the investment needed for the vital upgrade of the Tube, my initial reaction is that I could not justify such a costly concession.

“The opening of the East London line was slightly different in that it offered TfL the chance to attract new customers to what was effectively a brand new railway, showcasing the new stations, reopened stations and connections that can now be made to new areas of east London.”

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