Mayor’s transport deputy demands TfL control of Govia Thameslink ‘crisis’ rail franchise

by Dave Hill

Sadiq Khan’s new deputy mayor for transport has demanded urgent talks with the government with a view to bringing parts of the troubled Govia Thameslink (GTR) rail franchise under Transport for London’s control within two years.

Heidi Alexander, the former Labour MP for Lewisham East, said in her first public speech in the job that the problems with the service are a “crisis” that is “blighting the lives of Londoners and risks causing our city economic damage if it continues much longer.”

Her comments, made a conference about the capital’s transport challenges being held by think tank Centre For London, will reinforce the same message sent by Mayor Khan to transport secretary Chris Grayling in a letter.

New timetables introduced by GTR on 20 May have resulted in numerous peak time cancellations and many trains running late, creating major problems for many commuters using the Thameslink and Greater Northern routes it oversees.

Khan and Alexander believe TfL should be given responsibility for improving services out of Moorgate to Enfield, Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City in 2020, the earliest date possible under proposals that depend on GTR losing its franchise, along with services to suburban south-west London out of Victoria and London Bridge.

Alexander said that TfL and the Mayor “stand ready” to also take over West London Line services between Clapham Junction and Willesden Junction and repeated calls for metro services run by the Southern, South Western and South Eastern rail companies to be brought within TfL’s orbit too, citing the efficiency of the London Overground network and TfL Rail.

In a wide-ranging speech, she listed road congestion, over crowded Tubes and trains, and “Victorian infrastructure” still “creaking under the weight of 21st Century demand” and the cost of travel as the main challenges she must address. “The truth is over the last two decades London has had to run to stand still,” she said. “As soon as extra capacity is added, it fills up. The challenges of growth and funding are constant and not going away.”

Alexander echoed points made earlier by TfL commissioner Mike Brown, that London is now the only major city in the word without government grant support for its daily operation, adding that none of “the £500m raised every year from Londoners paying vehicle excise duty” is invested in the road network in London, meaning that the capital’s Tube and bus passengers are “subsidising the maintenance and upkeep of London’s strategic road network”. Brown described that situation as “nuts”.

She said that “new forms of land value capture” or the “devolved vehicle excise duty” are possible ways of helping London to raise the transport investment it needs. Alexander also described encouraging a shift from car use to more active travel modes “has to be our number one priority”.

This article was updated on 5 July 2018.

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