Sam Sherwood-Hale spoke to Florence Eshalomi AM, Labour’s London Assembly Spokesperson for Transport
Florence Eshalomi AM is the London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark and a Labour Co-operative politician. Florence is also a member of the London Assembly Transport Committee which examines all aspects of the capital’s transport system in order to press for improvements for Londoners.
The Committee pays particular attention to how the Mayor’s Transport Strategy is being implemented and looks closely at the work of Transport for London and other transport operators.
What are your thoughts on devolution?
It is absolutely integral that the Government reconsiders the case for the devolution of London’s rail services to TfL. We have seen rail operators such as Govia Thameslink fail passengers time and time again, with endless delays and cancellations to their services in the midst of their chaotic timetable changes.
It is clear that London’s beleaguered commuters deserve better, but they are instead being punished with exorbitant fare rises and seeming indifference from the Government. Placing services in the more capable hands of TfL would put an end to the misery.
How do you think London’s tube network compares to the rest of Europe, or cities like New York for example?
We are lucky to have one of the safest and most extensive tube networks in the world, reaching far into the outer-boroughs and suburbs. The Underground is deeply ingrained in our capital’s identity, and for many visitors to London it is a tourist attraction in itself.
Our expansive and hugely successful night-time economy sets us apart from other European cities, so I am glad that we have finally joined New York and introduced the night-tube which generated £190 million to London’s economy last year alone.
Unfortunately, London’s transport system is also unique for reasons that are decidedly less positive. The Government’s removal of its £700 million a year operational grant to TfL means that London is now the only city in Europe that does not receive a day-to-day transport subsidy.
This decision to cut such vital funding from TfL, approved by the previous Mayor, Boris Johnson, is incredibly irresponsible and short-sighted when the demands being placed on our transport system will continue to significantly increase.
Part of your responsibility on the Transport Committee is to scrutinise the implementation of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, how important is the role of rail in the strategy?
There are ambitious targets set for the future of London’s rail services in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, with a significant focus on improving connectivity and mitigating the pressing issue of overcrowding.
For example, the Mayor has pledged to put the necessary measures in place now in order to lay the foundations for rail capacity to increase by at least eighty per cent by 2041. It is made clear that the delivery of large-scale projects such as Crossrail 2 will be key to achieving this.
However, the Strategy also acknowledges the limitations of the Mayor’s powers over London’s rail services, and the reality that the issues commuters encounter today with certain operators appear unlikely to be resolved with any urgency unless more oversight and authority is devolved.
Following our hearings and investigations over the summer, the Transport Committee will publish a report on Future Rail in London in the near future, to further explore some of these issues.
In your opinion, how can rail help sustainable travel in London?
Ensuring that London has a modernised and integrated rail network is an essential to tackling congestion and emissions on the roads of the capital.
It is all about providing alternatives, and this can be seen in the measures that the Mayor is taking to boost the uptake of walking and cycling in the capital. The reality is that for thousands of commuters living in the outer boroughs and beyond, rail services offer one of the only other options to driving.
However, I can imagine that rising fares, and the unreliable reputation of certain train operators have put many off.
To heal the damaged perceptions of rail transport and encourage more commuters to adopt this sustainable option, it is vital that more services are placed under the control of TfL.
How can cycling infrastructure in London be improved so that cycling and rail travel can work more harmoniously?
It is fundamental that we continue to aim for the ever-closer integration of cycling and rail travel. In terms of achieving this, cyclists need safer and more direct routes to stations and the provision of larger and more secure parking capacity.
It can often go overlooked, but station entrances can also pose challenges for cyclists, who are often forced to carry their heavy bikes up steep steps. A simple and cost-effective solution would be to install wheeling ramps more widely across the rail network.
What have you learned about London’s transport system in your time on the Transport Committee?
London has one of the most complex and advanced transport systems in the world, and the whole infrastructure of our capital relies on it.
It has been evident from my work on the Committee, that the variety of transportation modes on offer in London is increasing rapidly, with the sector attracting more and more interest and investment from private companies.
However, to ensure that the growth of the network works for all Londoners, we must give strategic priority the more sustainable options, such as walking and cycling, whilst reasonably enforcing regulation in other areas, such as the burgeoning private hire vehicle sector.
What changes would you like to see in the future and what do you think is the best way to bring them about?
I would like to see a continued focus on ensuring that our transport network is affordable and accessible for all Londoners.
It has been positive to work with a Mayor who has largely prioritised this, through the introduction of the fares-freeze, the Hopper Fare and his large-scale and sustained investment in providing more widespread step-free access across the underground network.
There is also the urgent issue of the dangerous levels of air pollution that blight our streets, so I would also like to see the Mayor roll-out even more hybrid buses, comprehensively enhance London’s cycling infrastructure, and ensure the Ultra Low Emissions Zone is extended further.
What benefits do you expect the Elizabeth line (Crossrail) will bring for passengers in London?
I was disappointed at the recent announcement that Crossrail’s opening would be pushed back to next Autumn.
It is undeniable that its impact will be vast, adding ten per cent more capacity to our transport system and enabling 1.5 million more passengers to reach Central London within 45 minutes.
As well as improving connectivity, it will also significantly enhance accessibility across the network, with upgrades being made to every Crossrail station to provide step-free access from platform level. This will make a huge difference for wheelchair users and those with mobility issues that currently struggle to get around the capital. As a commuting mother with a toddler and infant in a pushchair I can’t wait for more step free access across our transport system.