Sadiq Khan has said that only he and the Transport for London commissioner have the power to relax social distancing rules on the capital’s public transport and not the “London Covid Transport Task Force” imposed by the government as a condition of its recent financial bailout.
Answering questions from Labour AM and London Assembly transport committee chair Alison Moore at his remotely-conducted monthly Question Time session, the Mayor was emphatic that the Task Force, whose chair is the Prime Minister’s advisor and former mayoral chief of staff Sir Edward Lister, cannot take that decision over the head of the TfL commissioner Mike Brown or himself as chair of the TfL board.
“I’m quite clear, and the commissioner’s quite clear about his responsibility, that he’s in charge of safety in public transport in London that TfL controls, not some task force,” he said.
Moore noted that the terms of reference of the Task Force “have remained unpublished”. A letter to the Mayor from transport secretary Grant Shapps detailing the terms of the bailout, dated 15 May, incorrectly said the terms of reference “are attached” and TfL has been unable to provide them for On London, or to name the full Task Force membership.
The letter from Shapps says that “during the [financial] support period”, which ends in October, “Transport for London will work in unison with HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] on taking steps to support the safe restart to the transport system and agrees to joint action and oversight” by the Task Force “subject to TfL’s statutory responsibilities (particularly in relation to safety).”
The letter lists TfL as agreeing to eight individual service level measures, including urgently bringing forward “proposals to widen the scope and levels” of road-pricing schemes (including the congestion charge) and presenting the Task Force with “travel demand management proposals…to optimise the use of the available safe transport capacity” including suspending free travel for under-18s and for over-60s during peak travel periods.
Deputy Mayor for transport Heidi Alexander revealed that Sir Edward has been made Task Force chair on Monday during a meeting of the Assembly’s transport committee. It also emerged that Boris Johnson’s transport adviser Andrew Gilligan will be a member of what the Shapps letter calls a “dedicated oversight group comprising TfL and HMG”, which must agree the details of an “ambitious active travel plan” drawn up by TfL.
In 2013 while London Mayor, Johnson appointed Gilligan as his “cycling commissioner” despite his having no prior experience as a transport planner. Gilligan was a keen media supporter of Johnson during the mayoral elections of 2008 and 2012. Gilligan was sighted in the company of Khan’s cycling commissioner Will Norman at a TfL office last month. TfL has been unable to provide On London with the rest of the membership of the “dedicated oversight group”.
The Mayor’s Question Time exchanges with Moore were in the context of the Prime Minister launching a review of the social distancing “two metre rule” to examine the case for relaxing it.
Khan said he has “spoken to business leaders who are really keen to have a reduction sooner rather than later” to enable more customers to visit shops and other businesses, but that, while he “recognises the economic imperative”, his view is that “the worst thing we could do, not simply [in terms of] more people catching the virus and dying but also for our economy is to have a second wave that would overwhelm the NHS”.
He underlined that he has today written the Prime Minister “asking him to make it mandatory to wear a face-covering in shops and other places where you can’t keep a social distance” arguing that this would “make it safer and could lead to more confidence as well”.
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