I believe being mayor of London is the best job in the world if you do it properly. That’s because it comes with both a challenge and an opportunity: the challenge of keeping 8.5m people moving every day, and the opportunity to build on the extraordinary transport engineering achievements of the past to make a city fit for the future.
I last stood for this job in 2008. I picked up endorsements from the Independent and Observer newspapers, while the Federation of Small Businesses said I was the candidate who would best stand up for its members’ interests, so I’m proud of what I achieved.
But I also know I’m better qualified this time. That’s because I went away and spent the intervening years working as a professional transport campaigner nationally for the highly respected charity Campaign for Better Transport, and as a local councillor in Camden. As Dave Hill in the Guardian was kind enough to put it: “She, like her party, has grown more formidable with experience.”
It means I now have a much deeper and more detailed understanding of how we can build a better transport system for London. But this vision of a better way of doing transport that runs throughout my manifesto seems to elude the other candidates.
Look at public transport fares. My costed plan responds to the housing crisis and the extra costs borne by outer Londoners, and it aims to help reduce the unfairness of being forced out of central London only to pay vastly more to get into work again. The plan would cut fares for outer London, with fewer zones from next year and a move to flat fares by 2025.
And I’ll bring in a new “ONE Ticket” to let you change between all types of public transport and pay to get to where you are going, not for each stage of the journey. A one-hour bus ticket isn’t enough. People aren’t charged to change from the Victoria Line to the Central Line and you shouldn’t have to pay to change between different modes of transport either.
Compare that with Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith. One will starve TfL of investment – Sadiq’s arguments about freezing fares and cutting back on waste are those of austerity and George Osborne, and we know how that turns out for public services. The other offers nothing at all to Londoners who are struggling to pay for getting to work: in his vision, Zac is quite happy to see people in outer London paying more and more every year.
It’s even worse when it comes to cycling. In the past decade we’ve seen a cycling revolution in London, with the bike hire scheme introducing new people to this form of transport and the superhighways programme providing them at last with good quality infrastructure. More and more people are discovering that cycling is the best way of transport – not because it helps save the planet or keeps them fitter and healthier (although all that is true too), but because it’s usually the cheapest, fastest and most convenient way around a congested city.
But now I’m seriously worried we could go backwards on cycling in the next mayoral term. Although it seems strange to say so, I can even see myself feeling nostalgic for Boris Johnson and his cycling tsar Andrew Gilligan.
That’s because Zac has said he’ll rip out the superhighways if drivers don’t like them, and Sadiq has said he’ll only go ahead with new ones if they can be installed without disrupting traffic, which is clearly impossible. He has also said they should be narrower and has called them “obstructions” on the road.
Meanwhile the pair of them are stuck in the past on roadbuilding. With his background editing The Ecologist, Zac knows perfectly well that when you build more roads you create more traffic – yet he’s giving his full support to the massive new road project for the Silvertown Tunnel. Sadiq has started saying he’ll review the scheme, which is welcome, but has also said he wants to remove the tolls. Even under TfL’s own projections, a toll-free new crossing would generate a truly massive increase in traffic, congestion and pollution right across east and south east London.
What’s more, Zac’s idea of a green future for London transport is so divorced from reality that he told LBC’s Nick Ferrari we might no longer need bus lanes once everyone is driving electric cars. He was widely ridiculed for saying it, and I think he must realise how daft it was because he angrily denies saying it. But he did say it – Adam Bienkov of politics.co.uk quoted him entirely accurately when he broke the story – and the fact that he did so shows how little proper thinking he has done on the subject.
I’m with Rachel Holdsworth of Londonist, who said the following on the BBC last week:
“I think innovation is crucial. And what is actually sadly lacking in the two front runners manifestos is a big picture, a big ambition of how they want London to be in the next 30 or 40 years.
“I don’t get a big vision from them. They are promising things that are already in the pipeline such as Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo line extension. There does not seem to be an acknowledgement that maybe we are at peak car right now so why are we carrying on building road tunnels? Shouldn’t we be doing river crossings that are for public transport? Shouldn’t we be focusing more on moving people rather than vehicles? Shouldn’t we be focusing more on cycling?”
Yes of course we should, on all those points, and those things are absolutely central to my own Green vision for London. If the city gives me a mandate on 5 May, I can begin to make it a reality.
Sian Berry is the Green party’s candidate to be mayor of London.
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