Rumours have reached me that Transport for London is hoping to persuade new Mayor Sadiq Khan to slash the amount of money spent on cycling infrastructure each year.
Shortly after taking office, the Mayor denied reports that he was scrapping one flagship scheme but confirmed he was going to take time to consider the various schemes he’d inherited from Boris Johnson and former cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan.
There’s nothing wrong with that, fresh eyes and new political mandates can often help to improve schemes, for example by securing greater co-operation from previously unenthusiastic local councils.
But according to insiders there are some within TfL who hope to use the Mayor’s pause to persuade him to cut the amount spent on cycling per year.
Unlike Boris who signed off a series of eye-watering fares hikes, our new Mayor has severely limited the potential for extra fares revenue, forcing TfL to draw up wide-ranging plans to cut spending and make the most from its network and assets.
There’s always been pockets of unhappiness within TfL for Boris’s enthusiasm for cycling. Many senior figures resented money being spent on bike infrastructure which, as they see it, encourages people off the network and reduces fares income.
The lack of interest was always obvious at photo-ops for cycling announcements where the TfL presence was often incredibly thin or entirely absent.
In contrast, events held to publicise a new Tube, train or bus would routinely see half a dozen highly paid officials, seemingly having no actual work to do that morning, descend on the venue to have a play with the new toy and be photographed alongside it.
I can think of several rail-related events over the years where the number of besuited TfL execs treating themselves to a morning out of the office outnumbered the large media contingent by at least three to one.
This reluctance to recognise cycling as a legitimate transport option, and in the case of at least one very senior TfL officer open hostility towards it, is why Boris appointed Gilligan in the first place.
But with Sadiq opting not to keep him in post and with no successor yet named, it’s been suggested that some in TfL believe they can preserve spending on “core” transport schemes at the expense of London’s growing number of cyclists.
I’ve been told by two separate insiders that proposals are being drawn up to re-phase projects and change the mix of schemes TfL would seek to deliver each year in order to cut spending while still being able to point to local junction improvements and other infrastructure projects as evidence of its commitment to improve road safety.
As I understand it, this work is a Transport for London initiative which has not been discussed with, or instigated at the request of, the Mayor or his City Hall team.
Indeed, Sadiq has pledged “to make London a byword for cycling” and “to increase the proportion of TfL’s budget spent on cycling”.
But with TfL previously admitting “embarrassing” underspends in its cycling budget it seems some within the agency hope to reframe this pledge to simply mean that all of a lower budget would be spent each year.
In such a scenario Boris would be blamed for getting people’s hopes up by committing more funds than could be spent in a single year and TfL would seek to persuade any critics – especially Assembly Members – that it was better to focus on actual results and wrong to store up unspent cash which could instead be used to help deliver the lower fares they’ve spent years calling for.