Editor’s blog: Driven round the bend

TFL has taken its incompetencies to new lows. If they don’t sort it out by 2012, there are going to be more than just red faces.

I’ve had a frothy rage about transport in London in this blog before. But it’s high time I was given a second chance to vent some more spleen. Just got to get some of this off my chest. Those of you living portfolio lives in the Yorkshire Dales or Western Pembrokeshire turn away or start to smirk now.

The Gwythers went off for a couple of days in Devon last weekend. After 48 hours of Dartmoor delight it was with a heavy heart that I started the engine at 4pm on Sunday to begin the long trek home. But it wasn’t caravans on the M5 or accidents near Swindon that brought us to grief. No – we made incredible progress until Heathrow, when we were felled by: the M4 bus lane. I thought this nasty white elephant, the bastard son of Prescott, was going to be abolished. But no. It still sits there in all its idiocy. Apparently it has no cameras to police it and the Met have lost interest so your chances of being fined for joining the smattering of taxis are pretty minimal.

After an hour’s fuming, no sooner had we accelerated to about 9 mph on the Hammersmith flyover than we ground to a halt again, as to my utter disbelief the A4 at the Cromwell Road into London was shut – and will remain closed for the whole of August – to fix the gas mains. Every poor fool on the main road from the West into London is now forced into one lane and down through Earls Court.

It has been a shocking couple of years for the roads in London. The capital currently has more trenches being dug than during the Battle of the Somme. One dreads to think what the cost to business and UK plc will be, never mind the collective stress levels of the nation. Thames Water are replacing the Victorian mains everywhere at a pathetic pace with little or no regard for anyone except their shareholders. (Why can’t some really clever engineer invent a method to replace underground pipes that doesn’t involve digging down from the surface and then re-filling the hole?)

What has to happen with utilities companies is they need to bear the true cost of the travel disruption they cause. It must be made to hurt them. This is the only way to end a shambolic system that enables them to get away with shutting roads for months on end – and the Albert Bridge for a year and a half.

Off the roads things are no better. This morning, as I waited amid the chaos caused by a busted train at Clapham Junction, I read the headline that the new trains on the Victoria underground line are ‘23 times less reliable’ than the units they are replacing. The result has been even more nightmarish journeys than usual as these useless units – for which we have waited a decade – break down

Problems have been caused by computer software failures and from ‘over-sensitive door sensors’, which apply the brakes when passengers lean against the doors. This does beg the question that if you force 863 commuters paying the highest fares in the world into a carriage, crush them until they can hardly breathe in 40 degrees of heat, aren’t they going to tend to lean on the doors? Most are trying to batter their way out, like cattle en route to the slaughterhouse sensing this journey may be their last. A TfL spokeswoman said: ‘There have been some technical issues with the new trains but we are working hard to rectify these faults. Once the upgrade is finished in 2012 the new track and signalling will mean faster, smoother and more reliable journeys for our customers.’ Yeah, yeah, yeah. All will be well and all manner of things will be well in the hands of TFL.

If TFL fired some of the hoards who work in their PR departments and actually hired a few half-way capable engineers and managers we would all be glad. If only it had some competition, it would be forced to treat those who use their service like customers, rather than a burden to be shifted about.

My point is simple. Those who run London’s transport infrastructure are not fit for purpose. It’s high time Mayor Boris had them ground down into chips to refill Thames Water’s trenches. (Ok that’s a bit extreme but we’re being pushed to extremes here). If we haven’t got our act together by the time of the Olympics, then the whole world will laugh louder than they did when we went 4-1 down to the Germans in Bloemfontein. The possibility that the Government will further squeeze the capital’s transport budgets between now and 2012 just doesn’t bear thinking about. If cities could up foundations, then London would leave the UK and relocate to Zurich. (And we’d take our contribution to the exchequer with us.) At least our value would be appreciated there.