Transport (London)

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15 January 1996.

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Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice , Lewisham East 12:00, 15 January 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to improve the transport system in London. [7450]

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

The Government plan a continuing high level of investment in London's transport system, with increasing benefits to passengers from greater efficiency and increased private sector involvement.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice , Lewisham East

Will the Minister apologise to users of London transport who have faced fare increases of up to 14 per cent. in the past week? Will he also apologise to the 100,000 passengers whose journeys to work are being disrupted by urgent repair work that could have been dealt with sensibly had the Government bothered to invest in the network?

Given that the previous Secretary of State for Transport—now chairman of the Conservative party—said only last year that fare levels would be stabilised and would eventually fall, will the Minister apologise to the whole country for the present state of our transport system?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

That is an extraordinary series of requests, coming from a member of a party whose record of investment in London is so abysmal that we are now experiencing far more disruption than we would had it invested in the system properly when it was in office. It is shameful for Labour politicians to seek to extract a palpably incorrect interpretation from the considerable investment that is now taking place. The hon. Lady advances the extraordinary proposition that we should apologise for the fact that decades of neglect by Governments of her persuasion—indeed, all Governments—are now being remedied for the benefit of passengers.

As for the issue of fares, if the hon. Lady has any proposals, have they been costed by her right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury team? I suspect not.

The current Administration have ensured that London Transport now makes an operating profit on its activity, as a result of which investment levels are at a level unparalleled since the war.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke , City of London and Westminster South

What prospect does my hon. Friend see of further new schemes to accelerate the movement of buses in London, similar to the initiative at Shepherds Bush?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

I certainly foresee a continuation of that programme. Bus priority is another of the programmes that have received increased funding in this year's London local transport settlement; it is the key to better patronage of buses and, in turn, to the success of any urban transport system.

The experiment at Shepherds Bush has been extremely successful. We are building on it, with local authorities in west London and other authorities of all political persuasions throughout the capital.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Does the Minister recall the encouraging reply given by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) about the proposals of Transport on Water for an imaginative scheme providing public water buses in London, to be funded by a mixture of public and private capital? The public capital would cover the transfer of traffic from road to water—mentioned by the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke)—particularly the transfer of coach traffic, some of it carrying visitors, among the five tourist centres between the Tate gallery and the tower of London. Such a scheme would reduce congestion, and secure the support of the people of London. As the tide of time is now against the Government, will they float the scheme and push the boat out while they have the chance?

Photo of Mr Steven Norris Mr Steven Norris , Epping Forest

That was a rather tortuous metaphor, but, on the substance of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have to say that I share his aspiration. I have long wanted river boat services to return to the Thames, but the prerequisite is that they should be viable, at least at the operating level. I know that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that proposition.

I am happy to examine the proposal made by Transport on Water—indeed, we have plans of our own to try to improve river services. However, the hon. Gentleman, who is extremely knowledgeable about the Thames and its use in the past 30 or 40 years, knows that such a proposition is not as easy to implement as it appears. There are some inherent costs in waterborne transport operations which far exceed those per passenger mile on, for example, buses or light rail.