Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Grim Alternatives for Motorists

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Grim Alternatives for Motorists

Article excerpt

Cool water TV with no Sugar THE CONGESTION charge began life at [pounds sterling]5.

If the Mayor is re-elected for a third term in 2008, it will end up at double that amount: [pounds sterling]10. This was Ken Livingstone's bombshell at the ITV annual London debate last night. It is a grave prospect for London business. What is more, it flies in the face of the Mayor's previous promises that the price of the charge would not rise.

Paradoxically, one factor that will soften the blow for shops is the expansion of the charge zone westwards, which happens next February. There will be so many more people and businesses within the expanded zone - none of them paying the full charge - that the numbers paying an entire, offputting [pounds sterling]10 a day will be diminished.

The premise of the congestion charge was that there would be a first-class affordable public-transport alternative for motorists giving up their cars.

Quite how that works out in practice was seen this year, when bus cash fares rose by up to 25 per cent. The Mayor's other revelation last night was that bus fares would rise again next year by more than inflation. He justifies his decision by citing the cost of improvements like the extension of the East London line. Yet there remains the question of how the Mayor could so readily introduce free travel for young people under 18 on buses and under 11 on Tubes when funding is so limited.

It seems, too, that Tube fares are likely to rise yet again above inflation.

This will justifiably infuriate Underground travellers who already pay a swingeing [pounds sterling]3 minimum cash fare, especially given the dismal performance of the system this week. It is only May, yet because of tracks buckling in rising temperatures, there have been severe delays on the District line. The reason is the failure of Metronet, one of the two Tube maintenance companies, to "pre-stress" the tracks in preparation for warmer weather.

The delays cannot, however, be blamed on the Mayor, who is trying to tighten the company's contract to increase penalties for poor performance.

This is exceptionally difficult to do, because of the favourable terms enjoyed by the private sector in the part-privatisation deal imposed on the Underground by the Government. …

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