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Revenue brake on London roads action

A TOP transport economist voiced grave doubts that the new Mayor for London would get the necessary funds to cut congestion in London, an ICE meeting heard last week.

Stephen Glaister, professor of transport and infrastructure at Imperial College, warned that unless radical amendments were made to the Government's bill for a Greater London Authority - set to be heard in the next session of parliament - the new mayor would have no money available to upgrade Tube, rail and bus services.

He told the London association meeting on How can the new London Mayor reduce road traffic congestion and atmospheric pollution: 'Transport planning in London over the last 20 years has been a complete disaster because there hasn't been a proper long term funding strategy. There will be a real opportunity for the mayor to get this right but unless he is given new powers to raise revenue in the Bill going through parliament, the financial prospects for him will be grim.'

Glaister claimed that money promised in the Government's Transport White Paper for local transport schemes in the capital would be found by reducing the subsidy to the rail franchising director. Subsidies for the rail system in London would drop from 1.79bn in 1997-98 to 0.66bn by 2003-04.'

He described the outlook for the London Underground as 'really grim', with zero money forecast for improvement of the service.

'John Prescott announced a 7bn public private partnership in March and there will be no government subsidy of the Tube beyond 2001. The money will only cover the upkeep of Tube service and a backlog of 1.2bn in maintenance. The plan assumes operating profits of 450M a year which relies on fares increasing above the level of inflation for the next seven years and a growth in passenger traffic.'

If the PPP is sealed by the time the new mayor takes office in April 2000, they would be paying back the private investment for 25 to 30 years and a steep rise in fares would be likely, he said.

Glaister cited congestion charging as a vital solution to the revenue-raising conundrum. He pointed to MVA studies in 1994 that showed how charging would reduce road traffic in central London by up to 30%, increase traffic speeds by 20%, and help fund 7bn public

transport improvements. 'Installing a fully electrical system would be a big risk. But it is still worth thinking about ways of doing it which are less elegant but more simple and sellable to the public.'

A London travelcard displayed in the windscreen would be a sensible first step, he said.

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