Out and about last night, I humped into the Conservatives’ Charlton “action team“. Almost literally bumped into them, that is, I was crossing the road at the same time as they were, and was taken aback to see a bunch of sturdy young chaps strolling the streets bearing photographs of Boris Johnson. After all, it was a surprise to see that the Conservatives had discovered that Charlton is a district of south-east London between Greenwich and Woolwich, well-known for the Thames Barrier, a big house, a failing football team and litter in the streets. Still, at least they were making the effort, for democracy in Greenwich borough’s weak and at least they were showing their faces. Debate is good, and all that.
Anyway, I got home to find they’d called at 853 Towers, and left one of those leaflets about Boris on my doormap together with a slightly out-of-date local newsletter. Well, it’s thought that counts. The Boris leaflet listed his achievements – including “Oyster on national rail later this year”.
Until today, of course, when it was confirmed that the national rail companies are dragging their feet yet again – as I suspected they were earlier this week.
London TravelWatch has expressed fury as it has become clear that the roll-out of Oyster Pay As You Go on national rail services in London is being delayed to 2010.
Sharon Grant, Chair, London TravelWatch, said: “We are dismayed that, yet again, the introduction of Oyster Pay As You Go is to be delayed on national rail services in London, meaning passengers will continue to have to use two separate methods of payment on transport in London. As well as being confusing for passengers, it is blatantly unfair on those who live outside the tube network who are not reaping the price benefits of the Oystercard. These delays have occurred time and again over the years.
“Passengers at railway stations around the capital are walking past covered up, unused Oyster machines every day, and have been for months. The lack of an integrated system and any joined-up thinking is ridiculous in a modern city like London. Another delay is simply unacceptable, and it is time for the Department for Transport to hold the transport providers to account.”
Ooops – so Boris’s little claim in his leaflet is a load of cobblers. So much for his famed negotiating skills. His spokesperson told BBC London – which mystifyingly failed to feature this story on its lunchtime news bulletin (ever wonder why south Londoners resort to blogging, boys?):
“Should any companies look like dragging their feet on this then the Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) will swiftly point out to them the tremendous improvement for their passengers this investment will deliver.”
So these unaccountable and unwanted private monopolies are in line for a swift pointing-out from Boris! I bet they’re trembling in their boots.
Don’t expect the government to act where our spineless mayor won’t – they’re responsible for the franchises, allowed South West Trains to get out of a commitment to have Oyster on its lines by this January and allowed Boris to hike the fares on the new East London railway when it opens next year. This combination of a gutless Tory mayor and inept Labour government continues to have dire consequences for London’s transport. And south Londoners’ wallets.
A couple of nights ago I had a choice of fares to take me home from Richmond, in zone 4, on top of my zones 1-3 travelcard. Without an open ticket office, I could have paid £1.40 to go to North Sheen (the first station in Zone 3) on a Waterloo-bound train – the fare is actually £2.10 but I get a third off with an annual travelcard. Or I could have used Oyster pre-pay and paid £1.10 instead so long as I used the District line or London Overground. Or, I could have marched through the open ticket gates and paid nothing, safe in the knowledge that being picked up by inspectors was not really likely.
I was honest and paid £1.10 on Oyster. But that little episode on Monday night just demonstrated how TfL (cheap fares, hard to dodge) and the National Rail companies (expensive fares, easy to dodge) are miles apart in their attutudes to Londoners. If only we had a mayor – and government ministers – who actually use south London’s trains and appreciate this kind of thing.