A few chinks in the armour?

A few chinks in the armour?

It is often said that the United Kingdom (UK) has one of the most successful transport systems in the world, but, as it turns out, nobody’s perfect. CLAIRE RENCKEN investigates

According to UK website, The Telegraph, councils are facing soaring bills as thousands of potholes need repairing. Based on research by LV=Road Rescue, it is reported that authorities spent
£1,6 million (about R35 million) in compensation for drivers, who damaged their cars on 12 000 miles of roads in need of repair, in the UK last year.

One in seven motorists said they had damaged their car as a result of driving on bad road surfaces in the past year. The most common problems were damage to tyres, suspension and wheel rims. Research suggests that the figure could have been even higher, as only 53 percent of drivers know that they can claim for pothole damage to their cars.

Over and above councils paying out a small fortune in compensation, they paid out much more in repairs. A £5-million (close on R108-million) chunk of cash was spent on trying to fill in potholes in the roads between 2014 and 2015.

Among the worst roads for pothole damage were Blackwater Valley Road in Ash Vale, Surrey, and Page Street in Barnet, north London. There were 31 claims involving Blackwater Valley Road alone, and 24 claims from motorists who hit potholes on Page Street.

Despite best efforts, and billions of pounds in road taxes, UK drivers don’t seem to notice road surfaces getting smoother. Only six percent said they thought roads had improved over the past 12 months.

Selwyn Fernandes, managing director of LV=Road Rescue, said: “Britain’s pothole epidemic is costing councils millions in compensation, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though things are improving.”

In other London transport news, transport operator, Transport for London (TfL), has been accused of wasting money ahead of the launch of the night-time trains, which were originally due to start on September 12, but now might be eight months late.

£1,5 million (more than R32 million) a month is being paid to hundreds of extra staff recruited for the new Night Tube, despite the fact it will now not start this year. TfL confirmed it has been paying around 500 additional workers, who were recruited for the planned 24-hour weekend service, since September.

Proposals for a 24-hour Friday and Saturday service on the Jubilee, Victoria and most of the Piccadilly, Central and Northern Lines were announced two years ago, but have been beset by problems.

Talks between unions and the London Underground on pay and conditions for the Night Tube have stalled, with little sign of a breakthrough. Unions have already made it clear the new service will not start this year – and there is growing speculation that it will not begin before the London mayoral election next May.

The plans suffered a fresh blow when the capital’s mayor, Boris Johnson, said in early November that he did not regard the service as “absolutely critical”.

TfL said it remains “operationally ready” to deliver the Night Tube and the extra staff are working across the Tube network in the meantime. Of the 500 extra employees, 137 are train drivers who are “supporting training and familiarisation in the Night Tube lines”.

TfL said 307 employees are in part-time station positions and the rest work in engineering or service control, adding that some of these staff will be used to replace those that leave or retire.

The revelation about the new staff members comes amid a London Underground voluntary redundancy programme that will see more than 830 roles cut as part of a scheme to close ticket offices.

Val Shawcross, Labour’s transport spokesman on the London Assembly, told the Financial Times: “It’s a huge amount of money that must be blowing their financial plans. They’ve obviously pressed the button too soon in terms of putting them on the payroll.”

It also comes after a summer of London transport chaos – including two 24-hour strikes calling for better pay and conditions ahead of the all-night Tube service, amid a series of rows between Underground management and unions.

Unions are seeking a limit on the number of shifts drivers and other staff will have to work, as well as negotiate a pay rise, before reaching an agreement.

“Ghost stations” plan faces legal challenge
A company director is poised to launch legal action after claiming his idea to open the Tube’s “ghost stations” to the public has been “stolen” from him by TfL.

Transport for London’s Night Tube operation has been beset by problems.Ajit Chambers, who has spent a lot of his own money on the project over the last six years, plans to challenge TfL over its handling of a potentially lucrative contract to turn disused stations into tourist attractions, bars and restaurants.

Ghost stations are scattered across the London Underground network – some in the most expensive parts of the capital, such as Mayfair – and have been frozen in time since being closed to the travelling public.

Many have buildings above ground – often with characteristic burgundy-glazed tiled frontages from the early 1900s – while others have only underground structures.

In May this year, the scheme was finally opened to tender by TfL, which published a glossy brochure advertising Down Street station as “an extraordinary world of unexplored and untapped potential, right beneath the surface of the most diverse, vibrant and exciting city in the world”.

It added: “For the first time in 90 years, Down Street station is considering new tenants for a prospective new lease on life.”

Chambers’s venture, The Old London Underground Company, submitted a bid in June but he heard three months later that he had been ruled out of the bidding. TfL later invited the businessman back to address his concerns, but he has now decided not to take part.

“I strongly believe TfL’s procurement process is seriously flawed. We’ve been led down the garden path. They’ve tried to discard us. I now believe we’re never going to win this and I don’t want to be part of a process that may be unlawful,” commented Chambers.

“This is a project I’ve been working on for so long, and TfL’s plans draw so heavily on my ideas, I really feel like this has been improperly handled,” he added.

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