Mayoral election 2012: Tube upgrade takes centre stage

We are a year away from the mayoral election and it is already clear that the Tube is going to be a huge issue.

This morning the accusations and counter accusations have been flying.

Labour and Ken Livingstone issued this press release - focusing on Tube performance and in particular the problematic Jubilee Line upgrade:

New figures show Tube delays getting worse

Following the publication of new monthly Tube performance figures by Transport for London (TfL) which show delays increasing across the underground network Ken Livingstone and Val Shawcross AM have called on Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson to, 'get a grip of the daily delays and disruption on the tube'.

The latest TfL performance figures measure the amount of time that passengers delayed on the tube services (excess journey time) and show the amount of time that passengers are delayed on the underground rose:

  • 26% on the Jubilee line
  • 18% on the Victoria line
  • On 5 of 9 tube lines and 3% across the entire tube network.

The performance figures cover the period from 9th January to 5th February 2011. More information on the TfL website.

Ken Livingstone said:

"This is about competence, attention to detail and understanding the real issues affecting Londoners.

"Sadly these figures reflect the experience of millions of Londoners who use the tube everyday. Delays and disruption on the tube have become an everyday experience for Londoners under the Conservatives.

"The increasing delays on the tube demonstrate Conservative Boris Johnson hasn't got a grip, is out of touch and has failed to get on top of the detail of the transport system."

Many commuters will think that Ken Livingstone has a point.

What the press release does not mention is the Jubilee Line is nearing the end of a horrendous delayed upgrade and has been using new signal technology for the first time.

That has led to problems with the trains and signal computers not communicating.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said:

"It's not true. I'm told the sums - in the press release - they've cherry picked some statistics but actually delays are down year on year.

"I don't want to pretend it's plain sailing of course it's difficult, we are making huge investments particularly in the Jubilee line and the Victoria Line.

"I think on the Victoria Line you are now starting to see some improvements. And on the Jubilee line I know people are frustrated and hacked off about it, by the closures that have been necessary over some weekends, but by the end of the whole programme we'll have got 3 more trains an hour by this summer.

"That's up from 24 to 27 trains an hour then next year it goes up to 30 trains an hour. That's going to be very very beneficial and important for Londoners."

The response from Transport for London was also dismissive of Labour's press release:

"The presentation of these figures is completely wrong and highly selective. The current London Underground performance figures clearly show that the number of delays - incidents that cause an initial delay to the train service of 15 minutes or more - have fallen by around seven per cent.

"The duration of incidents, which are often caused by passenger action or illness, or by other external factors, fluctuates from period to period and one month's data can not alone give an accurate picture of Tube performance. The full year statistics show that Excess Journey Time has declined significantly (by some 40 per cent) since the formation of TfL in 2000.

"The reality is that, when looked at in context... the Tube has improved significantly in recent years and continues to do so."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Boris Johnson's office called the upgrading of the Jubilee Line a "debacle" in February

The reality is both sides of this argument are correct and what it boils down is interpretation of the figures. And the devil is in the detail.

Excess journey time - journeys that take longer than they should - measured by duration has gone up on the Jubilee and on the network as a whole.

Excess journey time in January 2011 on the Jubilee was just over six minutes (6.06mins) compared to nearly five minutes a year ago (4.52min). Labour point to the fact that is a 26% increase.

Across the whole network excess journey times have also gone up by 3%.

TfL though point to another measurement: delays - hold ups of over 15 minutes.

It admits the number of Jubilee delays has gone up to 36 in January compared to nine the previous year for the same period.

It blames the upgrade problems but overall the number of delays has come DOWN across the Network to 132 in the last month compared to 142 a year ago.

And year on year, TfL says excess journey time has been following a downward curve for 10 years.

So what does it tell us? Probably what we already knew.

Commuters on the Jubilee Line are still having a rough time but across the network, even with the Jubilee Line factored in, the service is pretty much the same as last year.

The problem with that is this: Billions have been poured into the Tube and many commuters will not have noticed an improvement. Some will have witnessed a worse service.

The real measure will be when the Jubilee and Victoria line upgrades are complete. If there is not a dramatic improvement to the figures then, you can expect fireworks.

And you can also expect a lot of this type of thing in the run up to the election with the upgrades being picked over and that means huge pressure on TfL management to make improvements.

So what is your experience? Are Tube delays getting worse?