Mayor’s Question Time, May 2010 – Part One: Going Underground

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(Editor’s note: selected questions and answers only, and some have been edited/combined for brevity. If any notable questions or responses are missing let me know via the comments and I’ll update. More posts to follow over the next few days.)

In this post: Tube Lines debt, liabilities and job risk. PPP. Tim O’Toole. Circle Line service. Northern Line spur. Safety and escalator works at Bank/Monument stations. Help Points. Southfields work. Waterloo & City Line passenger numbers. Highbury & Islington tickets sales. Shelter and tickets at West Brompton.

Can you outline what additional debt Transport for London will incur if it is forced to borrow money on behalf of Tube Lines? Can you provide the expected payback schedule for both this debt and the interest payments? — Jenny Jones

TfL has now reached agreement with Amey (Ferrovial) and Bechtel to buy their shares in Tube Lines. Once the deal is completed, TfL does not expect to need additional borrowing to undertake the work required of Tube Lines in the remainder of the Business Plan, and there will be no additional financial call on Government, fare payers or taxpayers. The existing Tube Lines debt is already on the books of the Government and TfL, and acquiring Tube Lines will also provide an opportunity to restructure this debt on more beneficial terms for TfL.

What liabilities have TfL taken on as part of their takeover of Tubelines? — Caroline Pidgeon

Under the PPP contract, Tube Lines’ debt was underwritten by TfL. Therefore, TfL has taken on no liabilities that it did not effectively bear previously. Freed from the complex and inflexible PPP structure, TfL will be able to make significant savings, and get on with the job of delivering the vital Tube upgrades more efficiently and with less disruption to Londoners.

Will all staff transfer from Tubelines to TfL, or will there be some job losses? If so how many jobs are at risk? — Caroline Pidgeon

Once the deal is concluded, Tube Lines will become a wholly owned subsidiary company of TfL and so all Tube Lines staff will remain on their existing terms and conditions. Bechtel secondees will depart according to an agreed transition plan. All other contracts will remain in place.

Do you agree with the House of Commons Transport Committee recommendation that the Arbiter should have access to all of the tube network, including of course your nationalised lines? — John Biggs

I certainly agree with the Committee’s conclusion that the PPP scheme is fundamentally flawed. That is why it is such good news for London that TfL has reached agreement with Amey (Ferrovial) and Bechtel to buy their shares in Tube Lines.

The PPP Arbiter’s role will continue at present, while the precise structure of how Tube Lines would operate within TfL, and the transitional arrangements, are worked out. It is of course the case that the Arbiter already has full access to all the information on London Underground’s (LU) operations that he needs to discharge his responsibilities.

In the longer term, the Arbiter’s role will be considered, bearing in mind the multiple layers of scrutiny and transparency that already apply to all of TfL’s activities. These include the recently appointed Investment Programme Advisory Group comprising leading industry and private sector figures which will report to the TfL Board and publicly scrutinise the delivery of the entire TfL Investment Programme – an approach supported by both the Treasury and the Department for Transport.

In addition, TfL publishes annual and four-weekly LU performance reports; TfL Board meetings are held in public; Board and Panel papers are published and senior management is regularly and publicly scrutinised by the London Assembly and Parliamentary committees. TfL is also of course, unlike Tube Lines, subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Would Tim O’Toole be an able CEO for Tubelines and if so why would you seek to discourage his appointment? — John Biggs

I always made it clear that Tube Lines’ appointment of a Chief Executive was a matter for them, but that no one individual could change the fundamental and chronic flaws of the PPP. That is why we have acted to acquire the shares of Tube Lines from its shareholders, in order to deliver the upgrades with minimum disruption, and providing the best value for money.

Can you explain the poor service caused by the recent changes to the Circle line? — Murad Qureshi [and a similar question from John Biggs]

Since the route of the Circle line was changed, there has in fact been an improvement in underlying performance. Excess Platform Waiting Time, which measures the effect of disruption on gaps between trains, shows an improvement of 26%, compared to the previous six months. The change has also significantly improved the frequency of service between Hammersmith and Edgware Road, an area that previously had the lowest Tube service in zone two.

Unfortunately, a number of factors in the first few months of the new Circle service combined to prevent performance from improving as much as I would have liked. These included the coldest winter weather in 30 years, recurring problems with the aging train fleet, some driver shortages and a high incidence of signal failures on what is a very old signalling system. I know these have been frustrating for customers and LU has worked hard to overcome them.

The new Circle service coped better with these difficulties than the old one would have, and on days without any disrupting factors performance was well ahead of where it would have been under the former configuration. In the longer term new trains and signalling as part of the TfL improvement programme will further improve reliability on the Circle line.

Why has the TfL study into the financing of the Northern Line spur to Battersea been delayed, and when will it be published? — Richard Tracey

The need for a proposed Northern line extension from Kennington to Battersea has been identified as part of a package of transport measures to support the regeneration of the Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea Opportunity Area. Any extension of the Northern line would need to be externally funded as there is no provision in the TfL Business Plan.

TfL has been working with Treasury Holdings, the developer of the Battersea Power Station site, to explore a range of innovative funding solutions including contributions from Tax Increment Financing.

The initial study into the financing of the proposed extension has now finished. The consultants, who were commissioned to complete this initial study, have recently submitted their final reports to TfL, which is now in the process of gathering feedback from key stakeholders. Providing there are no fundamental issues raised by the key stakeholders, the reports will be made available in the summer, as planned, subject to confidentiality.

How much money has London Underground generated from total advertising in stations, tubes trains and anywhere else for each of the last five years? [and] How much does TfL charge to advertise on a tube, on a tube tunnel, and on a bus? How long does each of the above advertisements last for? — Richard Tracey

London Underground (LU) outsources management of its advertising estate by means of a contract. The current contract with CBS Outdoor started in 2006. LU’s annual advertising revenues for the past five years are as follows:

  • 2005/2006 — £32.6 million
  • 2006/2007 — £44.0 million
  • 2007/2008 — £54.9 million
  • 2008/2009 — £62.7 million
  • 2009/2010 — £71.5 million

TfL does not charge directly for advertising on its networks. Its advertising estate is managed by contractors, and prices are determined by those contractors. The advertising contractor for London Underground is CBS Outdoor – a variety of rates are advertised on their website. Advertising bookings are usually for a minimum of two weeks and can be booked for further multiples of two-week periods. TfL levy no charges to advertise on buses as bus operators arrange commercial advertising on their own vehicles. The length of time an advertisement appears would be a matter for the advertiser and the operator.

Are you proud of your record [on disabled access on the Tube]? What about the schemes that have been cancelled and what priority will you give to eventually implementing them? — John Biggs

I am proud of the fact that 59 stations on the London Underground (LU) network are now step-free. I do, of course, wish that we could deliver many more but that is a question of funding.

Six more stations will have step-free access by the end of 2012. Going forward, available resources will be targeted at the stations where major station redevelopment work is already planned, thereby combining step-free access with major redevelopment schemes, which is a better way to use budgets, with a significant benefit given the large number of passengers affected.

Aside from step-free access, there has been a huge improvement in other accessibility features at LU stations, such as wide-aisle gates, tactile strips and colour-contrasted handrails for the visually impaired. Furthermore, new Tube trains, such as the Victoria line trains now running in customer service, offer vastly improved accessibility, with features including specific wheelchair bays and visual door closing indicators.

The “cancelled” schemes to which you refer were, in fact, never properly budgeted for by the previous administration, which had the effect of raising expectations beyond what was achievable within very tight funding constraints.

I continue to receive complaints from constituents about the impact on their journeys of the continuing works at Bank/Monument Stations […] it is a daily occurrence at Bank for the entrance to be closed and the lift and escalators switched off. The consequence of this is passengers have to walk down 8 flights of very crowded stairs. There are genuine worries that it is only a matter of time before an accident happens. […] — John Biggs

One of London Underground’s key objectives during this complex and massive programme of replacement and repair at Bank is to maintain safety for customers. Preventing overcrowding at lower levels of the station, maintaining a smooth flow for customers and ensuring quick evacuation times, should the need arise, is key to doing so. All operating plans for the station are developed with the safety of customers in mind, and are drawn up in consultation and implemented with the approval of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.

Turning off lifts and temporarily closing some entrances at certain times of the day helps ease crowding at lower concourse and platform levels, and keeps customers moving through the station. Not managing crowding levels could cause the entire station to have to shut for prolonged lengths of time, which would be a far greater inconvenience for customers.

Do you agree that more public information posters about the [escalator works at Bank/Monument] and progress so far could be displayed to keep passengers informed? — John Biggs

Communicating the complexities of the Investment Programme to customers who are making their way through the system is a more difficult proposition. Posters are effective in providing short relevant pieces of information about the impact of the works, rather than more detailed, somewhat technical messages. LU’s current poster campaign does provide detail on current progress and next steps, with the central theme that all 15 escalators at Bank are reaching the end of their useful life and will be replaced or refurbished.

At the start of the work programme, around two years ago, LU distributed around 60,000 leaflets about the works. These were intended to paint the bigger picture for customers and explain the timescales and complexities involved. This information is available on the TfL website and the team responsible is now looking at ways to make it more accessible.

How many of the 1,500 Help Points installed on London Underground are on platforms not open to the public, (such as Neasden Station)? Please can you list these by station and location? [and] Can you confirm the total cost of installing Help Points? — Caroline Pidgeon

Neasden is the only station where this is the case. The decision to install Help Points on a disused platform at Neasden was taken because of the particular special circumstances at this station. It could be done at a marginal extra cost as part of the upgrade of the station, based on the possibility of the platforms being brought in to use in the future.

Help Points form part of the wider communications systems installed and upgraded at stations as part of refurbishments and modernisations. Depending on the existing equipment, and the nature and condition of the station, the costs of this work will vary – on average the cost is £4,000 for the unit.

When will the works on the District Line around Southfields be complete? — Richard Tracey

London Underground (LU) is working to prepare as much of the station as possible for the Wimbledon tennis tournament but the project won’t be fully complete until the scheduled October 2010 date. The completion of the embankment stabilisation project is scheduled for August 2010.

Please could you provide the average figures of the number of passengers using this line for every day of the week? — Caroline Pidgeon

The average number of customers on the Waterloo & City line on a daily basis is:

(figures from Waterloo / Bank)

  • Monday — 27,019 / 25,741
  • Tuesday — 27,641 / 27,719
  • Wednesday — 25,621 / 26,709
  • Thursday — 23,118 / 24,893
  • Friday — 21,522 / 23,686
  • Saturday — 2,079 / 1,700

Please provide me with a list of the average number of customers served at the Highbury & Islington station ticket office on Saturdays between 7.45pm and midnight [and] served at the Farringdon station ticket office on Saturdays between 3pm and 0.45am. — Jennette Arnold

67 tickets are sold at [Highbury & Islington] ticket office on an average Saturday between 7.45pm and midnight [and] 146 tickets are sold at [Farringdon] ticket office on an average Saturday between 3.00pm and 12.45am. With an average of one transaction a minute this would mean that the member of staff in the ticket office[s] would be utilised for only a quarter of the time. The number of tickets sold at the ticket office contrasts with the 186 tickets sold from the ticket machines at Highbury & Islington station [and] 359 tickets sold from the ticket machines at Farringdon station between those times on an average Saturday evening.

Please explain to me why you think it is a sensible idea to close the ticket offices at this station at 7:45pm on a Saturday night, when demand for security is at its highest? [and] How will safety at [Farringdon] station be guaranteed when your plans to reduce the ticket office opening hours from 10am to 2.30pm on a Saturday come into force? — Jennette Arnold

Providing reassurance to passengers is clearly extremely important and the most effective way of doing this is to have staff in visible and accessible locations in the station – not by having staff behind a glass window in a ticket office. London Underground’s proposal to close the ticket office at Highbury & Islington at 7.45pm on Saturday evenings, [and at Farringdon station on Saturday evenings] when demand for ticket office services is low, will therefore not have an impact on passenger security.

It should be noted that whilst 146 tickets are sold at [Farringdon] ticket office on an average Saturday between 3.00pm and 12.45am (just 15 per hour), 359 tickets are sold via the ticket machines at the station.

[T]here is in fact a chronic lack of shelter on Platforms 3 and 4 which results in passengers blocking the overbridge access within the District Line part of [West Brompton] station during bad weather. Please will you instruct TfL to look again at this and come up with a solution? — Caroline Pidgeon

When planning station upgrades, London Underground (LU) must obviously prioritise projects, taking into account cost effectiveness and demand. TfL advise me that platforms 3 and 4 at West Brompton are not busy platforms, even during peak hours, and that there are waiting shelters already. LU has reviewed the possibility of providing additional shelter and has concluded that the benefits do not justify the cost, given the many other pressing issues to address in renewing the Underground.

Outside [the 6-8 ticket office opening hours each day], railcard discount tickets cannot be purchased at West Brompton. Are there any plans to rectify this problem? — Caroline Pidgeon

LU is looking at whether it may be possible to offer railcard discounts from its ticket-machines without creating an opportunity for fare evasion. To be cost effective, the West Brompton ticket office is open during the hours when demand is highest. The cost of increasing the ticket office hours is simply not justified based on this demand.

Written by Totteridge