Outgoing TfL chief Leon Daniels deserves better than a chorus of abuse

by Dave Hill

News that Leon Daniels, Transport for London’s managing director for surface transport, is to step down before the end of this year has been greeted with responses ranging from the warmly appreciative to the staggeringly vile.

His boss, TfL commissioner Mike Brown, praised him for achievements in a role he has held since 2011, longer than any predecessor, including laying the foundations for improved street conditions for cyclists and pedestrians and “building a bus service that is the envy of all world cities”. Daniels had intended to retire in 2015, but stayed on at Brown’s request. His previous boss, Sir Peter Hendy, also one of those predecessors, says he has done “a fabulous job”.

But from the other end of the spectrum has come unrestrained, unspeakable vitriol. When BBC London transport correspondent Tom Edwards tweeted the news yesterday, a response thread quickly grew, filled with idiotic and vicious allegations, many of them actionable.

Daniels has been putting up with this kind of muck day in, day out, for years. He has, in particular, become a hate figure for some of London’s black cab drivers, who think he could and should have stopped the rise of Uber – a phenomenon whose ramifications he is, in fact, extremely conscious of.

Once, at a transport gathering, Daniels gave me sight of some choice examples of hostile messages cabbies had sent him, in one case including a photograph of where he supposedly lived. That type of thing has been a poor advertisement for a trade boasting that its drivers are more fit and proper persons for the task of conveying people round the city than those of their resented rivals. It’s also been one of the starker manifestations of the rise of a more general London road rage in recent years.

To Daniels has fallen the often thankless task of trying to keep some of London’s biggest and busiest roads from succumbing to gridlock and its vital bus service being ground down. His responsibilities have extended far beyond the 5% of London roads that carry 30% of its traffic, encompassing every part of the capital’s transport networks that isn’t the Underground, including the Overground service, the Dockland Light Railway, river services and the trams. But it’s congestion that has provided his most fraught and complex challenge.

The underlying story here is that of London itself for the past 25 years and more – a story of economic and population growth that has brought with it the sorts of problem that flow from that type of success. In Central London, the gains won by congestion charging have been paralleled by the road space implications of other types of beneficial change, such as bus priority lanes and pedestrianisation. In recent times, disruption caused by large construction projects, including of cycle lanes, has been the biggest contributor to holds ups and squeezes on road space. The impact of a rising in the number of private hire vehicles and delivery vans has been a factor too.

TfL’s more rational critics think it cumbersome and conservative. But even they would not dispute that balancing, regulating and reconciling a metamorphosing array of elements in the road transport equation to generate the best results for London and Londoners requires depth of knowledge, personal resilience, mindfulness of institutional checks and balances and substantial diplomatic skills, not least because, of course, TfL bosses have their own boss to keep happy – whoever happens to be the London Mayor. Daniels deserves far better than a chorus of abuse.

Having previously worked in transport’s private sector for 27 years before joining TfL, Daniels has seen persons of high calibre and low pass through his own organisation and, of course, through City Hall during his time in one of London’s most important public sector roles. Some of his experiences under Boris Johnson were highly enlightening and there’s a very funny story of an early encounter with Sadiq Khan. If he ever writes his autobiography it could be a rather interesting read.

13 Comments

  1. Leon Daniels did indeed ‘improve’ London’s bus running times but he did it at the expense of driver welfare. Stress is the bus drivers thanks for driving the best bus service in the world. We called for his resignation in 2015 and again recently. He certainly won’t be missed by London’s 27,000 Bus Workers. He wanted a bus service you could set your watch by at the expense of driver and passenger welfare and safety. 25 dead, 12,000 injured in the last 2 years is his legacy.

  2. Dave Hill have thou seen the bill of rights? Pretty basic yet drivers are being denied? Is that Leon Daniels legacy?

  3. Dave? Have you read the recent London Assembly Bus Safety Investigation? If that isn’t a condemnation of Leon Daniels as a manager, I don’t know what is.

    • It is important that you read it Dave. I was one of the bus drivers who took part in it and the conclusions are stunning. The London Assembly hit the nail on the head and that’s why London bus drivers are holding a rally outside City Hall this Thursday morning at 0930. We are refusing to let parliamentary dust settle on this report and we aim to present Sadiq Khan with our own Bill of Rights.

      • Joanne, I was typing as you were responding to Dave Hill. A lot of work went into presenting the GLA with detail – perhaps too much for this place. I don’t think I can be in London on 14th but with you in spirit, and I do have a call to get interested parties to meet up on 4 or 5 October.

        London is just the point at which this problem has become too big to ignore – I’ve been in touch with those working in other places with inadequate follow through to publish crash investigation reports and take action to prevent the same crash occurring again – we now have 4 Croydon-style (driver excessive speeds and lack of location awarness) bus derailments on the Cambridge Busway in 6 years, and numerous lesser incidents. TfL lawyers attempted to block a Coroner’s call for a Regulation 28 report on prevention of future deaths when for the second time in 8 WEEKS at the same location in the same circumstances 2 women were knocked down by buses on the Greenwich busway – the first was trapped seriously injured under the bus, the second died. After the first crash no action to remedy a catalogue of failings, after the second a flurry of ‘local’ action to reinstate speed limits (these were removed around 2008-10) and put up the right signs in the right places (whilst doing nothing with other signs and crossings not close to the crash site)

        Work I did in 1996 turned up the detail that buses on a per vehicle per year tally knock into more pedestrians than any other vehicle class, and from what I’ve learned in the time I’ve been analysing the data that has come from TfL, is that there are some very basic types of crash, which happen repeatedly, and clearly the rejoinder Once is unfortunate. Twice seems to be rather careless (or culpable) needs to be framed and hanging on the wall in the TfL Boardroom as a reminder of the corporate liability ultimately reaching the top of the chain of command.

  4. The painfully slow pace at which TfL reacted to many of the calls for measures to reduce the dangers present in the way London’s buses operate were I suspect fuelling the growth of anger from those who saw the problems and proposed solutions only to see an organisational lethargy to deliver the changes urgently needed, coupled with a culture that held back (and poorly collated) the data vital to analysis of the malaise. Much has also been written on the delays, and prevarications in taking on systems which have been proven (speed capping, real time relay of CCTV, use of cameras as enhanced mirror systems etc) which needed a management that pushed the boundaries, rather than gave itself congratulatory back slapping. There is a clear perception that this direction comes from the top, and Joanne’s comment, along with a growing body of material from front line staff, often anonymously for fear of losing their jobs, on the problems they see not being dealt with. Effective management has their finger on that pulse, and clearly there is no smoke without something creating it.

    The assumptions concerning issues such as Unintended Acceleration, when a bus widely used by TfL contractors had a very specific recall notice concerning a throttle servo fault, or the victim blaming stance on many fatal or serious crashes tarnish that glowing report – I’m especially minded of Brian Holt and the remarks made to a TfL board meeting the morning after his death. Brian died because he attempted to use a formal, traffic signal controlled crossing by passing through the gap left by a truck driver pulled up not just over the stop line but so far onto the crossing close behind the truck in front. The truck driver set off, driving over Brian and had to be stopped (rather than realising he had just killed a man) further along the road. A review of the Police’s collated evidence from the scene might have delivered a better choice of words, when making a comment on the death.

    So there is a point of change at a time when the Croydon Tram Crash (preceded by at least 5 near identical non-fatal guided busway crashes) has unlocked a potential for a Cullen-style review on the safety culture of transport modes which do not have the structured and public regulation seen in air, rail and marine transport.

  5. Let me guess though, you won’t post a single comment from a cabbie though because you don’t like to be proven wrong, typical massaging of information. You’ll do well at TFL.

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