Politics is all about choices, and Sadiq Khan may have made a very poor one. Will it lose him the forthcoming mayoral election? Probably not. Perversely, it will probably win him votes. But it could lead to big problems coming down the track.
The key issue is the present — and future — state of the Underground. Since November, the Central line has been - how can I put this politely? - banjaxed on a daily basis. Its trains are more than 30 years old and their motors are failing.
Sadiq Khan has chosen short-term political posturing over long-term investment
Each train has 32 electric motors. It only takes one to break for the train to have to be out of service. The Central line needs 71 trains for its peak-hour service. Last week it had only 54.
What does this mean? Chaos, delays, overcrowding and passenger anger — with station staff unjustly in the line of fire.
What is TfL doing? It has upped the hours of its maintenance teams and is repairing the motors as quickly as it can. (I’ve been to a depot — hats off to these engineers.)
What else is it doing? Trying to score political points. Guess what, it’s the Government’s fault for not providing sufficient funding.
TfL commissioner Andy Lord warned that other Tube lines — the Bakerloo, Northern and Piccadilly, most likely — are next at risk of having their trains fail.
He blames years of missed engineering overhauls when TfL was fighting for survival during the pandemic.
Fair enough, but what about now? TfL is due to post its first-ever operating surplus (£144 million) while Mr Khan (chair of TfL) has just allocated £177 million (of a £500 million pre-election windfall) to freeze fares, pay striking Tube staff more and scrap peak Tube and train fares on Fridays for a few months.
That’s more than £320 million. Even with millions more expected in fares income, it’s not enough to buy a new fleet of trains (£1.6 billion is the going rate). But couldn’t it at least pay for new, rather than reconditioned, motors for the Central line?
George Osborne used to talk about “fixing the roof when the sun shines” while in charge of the nation’s finances.
Mr Khan has chosen short-term political posturing over long-term investment. 10p off fares for a train that never comes? Doesn’t sound a great choice to me.
Ross Lydall is the Evening Standard’s transport editor