Transport committee unhappy with Boris Johnson’s snow response

June 1, 2009 at 12:29 pm Leave a comment

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A committee of MPs has accused the Mayor of London of a lack of leadership in the wake of severe traffic disruption in the capital in February caused by heavy snowfall.

The transport committee report, entitled The Effects of Adverse Weather Conditions on Transport, also makes recommendations and “urges” all local authorities to look at their response to the heavy snow.

On 1 and 2 February, very heavy snowfall over London and the South East meant that roads in the capital were covered by over 20cm of snow.

During the morning rush hour on 2 February, no buses were running and there were disruptions on the Underground. Southern and South Eastern train services into London were also badly affected.

The committee said the snow “had a crippling effect on parts of the transport network in London, and the disruption for commuters and cost for business had an impact not just in London but in the country as a whole.

“However, we do recognise that some services coped well. Overground rail services arriving from the north into London ran, as did the Docklands Light Railway.

“On Monday 2 February, services ran on over 80% of the Underground network, albeit service patterns were modified.”

Mayor Boris Johnson appeared before the committee to give evidence on April 2.

In a bullish session, he rejected criticism of his role and called some of the MPs were “talking tripe” and being “pathetic” and accused them of political motives.

In its report the committee said it does not “as the Mayor seemed to imply, consider that more meetings before the snow fell would have been a panacea for the problems London faced on 1 and 2 February.

“Nor do we suggest that operational decisions after snow falls should be overruled by the Mayor.

“However, given that we heard evidence to suggest that co-ordination between organisations was one of the areas which could be improved in future, it is necessary to examine this area.

“It is also an area where guidance and strategic leadership could, quite properly, be provided by the Mayor.

“We hope that, upon reflection, the Mayor will acknowledge that the transport situation in the capital on 1 and 2 February was unsatisfactory.

“While many of the factors leading to the transport disruption were unavoidable, more active strategic leadership and preparation could have given more confidence and may have enabled more public transport services to be restored more quickly.”

The committee said Boris Johnson has an “apparent disregard” for the scrutiny work of the London Assembly.

“It is the function, indeed the duty of the London Assembly Transport Committee to scrutinise the performance of TfL and the Mayor’s transport strategy for London.

“Furthermore, because of London’s position as the capital, circumstances there sometimes affect the nation as a whole disproportionately.

“In such circumstances, Parliament has a role in examining what could have been done better. We approached this task in a constructive frame of mind.

“We hope that the Mayor of London will reconsider his strategy in relation to scrutiny, and we urge him to adopt a more open and constructive approach. The lack of leadership manifested in his reaction to the disruption of public transport is disappointing. ”

Louise Ellman, chair of the committee, said:

“Strong co-ordination, clear priorities and visible leadership are all vital to the success and speed with which any public authority can respond to severe weather. Many factors made disruption unavoidable in early February.

“Whilst operational decisions must be taken by the professionals, more active strategic leadership from Mayor Johnson and more practical effort on his part to oversee preparations for a rare but forecast event, could have given the public far more confidence and might have ensured public transport services were restored much more quickly.”

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said he had acted to prevent accidents.

“With the benefit of hindsight it is even clearer to the Mayor that putting buses on icy roads, which could not be cleared, would have been irresponsible, dangerous and potentially lethal,” he said.

“The Mayor is pleased that today we are arguing over a select committee report, rather than giving evidence at an inquest into why Londoners have been injured unnecessarily on the icy roads.”

Click here to read the report.

photo: boris-johnson.com

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